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General Says US Missile Defense Much Improved Since North Korean Test in July

21 March 2007

The commander of U.S. strategic forces says the United States has significantly improved its missile defense and deterrent capability since North Korea's series of missile tests last July. General James Cartwright spoke at a House of Representatives committee hearing and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

General Cartwright says he worries about whether there is more his forces could do to improve their ability to detect and intercept incoming missiles. But he says many improvements have been made in recent years, and particularly in the months since North Korea's missile tests.

"To me, the credibility, the deterrent value, has gone up significantly since the activities associated with the Fourth of July in North Korea," said General Cartwright. "There's no doubt in our mind, and clearly in the minds of our allies, that there's value in missile defense. It offers you an alternative to an offensive-only strategy for many countries."

General Cartwright says the various parts of the U.S. military, other government agencies and allied militaries are doing a much better job of sharing urgent information and coordinating their responses, but more needs to be done.

North Korea launched seven missiles last July fourth, U.S. Independence Day. They all fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean, including the one long-range missile that was launched, which U.S. officials say failed after about one minute of flight.

Since then, U.S. officials have reported several successful tests of their anti-missile missiles, and General Cartwright says he has begun to deploy such missiles on some U.S. Navy ships, even though their testing is not finished.

The head of U.S. Strategic Command also expressed concern about China's growing military capability, particularly its recent successful test of an anti-satellite weapon.

"They have started to field what we call a 'continuum of capability,' from the lowest end of capability all the way through the most sophisticated, and filling in all of the blocks enroute," he said.

General Cartwright says the Chinese anti-satellite weapon can reach important U.S. satellites in low earth orbit, but can not reach many others in higher orbit. He did not discuss any specific U.S. response to the new Chinese capability, but he said "responses to threats in space don't necessarily have to be directed [to] or accomplished in space."

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