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North Korea

US to upgrade missile defense to counter North Korean threat

The US has announced plans to deploy more ground-based missile interceptors to counter the threat posed by North Korea. The announcement reflects US concern about advances made by Pyongyang in missile technology.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday that an additional 14 missile interceptors would be deployed in Alaska by 2017.

Hagel said that while Washington did not believe that North Korea currently had the capability to hit the US with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), the deployment of the additional interceptors was meant to keep it ahead of the threat.

"The United States has missile defense systems in place to protect us from limited ICBM attacks, but North Korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and is engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocations," the defense secretary said.

The US currently has 30 missile interceptors in Alaska and California.

Hagel added that the US military would install a new radar facility in Japan to help track any missiles fired by North Korea.

The communist country currently has missiles capable of hitting both South Korea and Japan, but it has yet to demonstrate that it has the technology to reach the US. However, US officials fear that Pyongyang is making progress in its efforts to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Despite a ceasefire that ended the Korean War six decades ago, the North remains technically at war with the South. It has also recently issued a series of threats against the South and declared a non-aggression pact with Seoul null and void.

Fears about the North's intentions also increased after Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test last month. The United Nations Security Council responded by tightening up the already existing sanctions against the country.

Last December, the North also launched a rocket that it said was meant to put a satellite into space. South Korean defense officials said though that the launch amounted to a ballistic missile test and estimated that it had a range of 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles).

pfd/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)