After North Korea test-fired its latest medium-range ballistic missile last month, the Pentagon responded with a bold boast: If the missile had targeted the United States, Japan, South Korea or any other ally, the U.S. would have blasted it out of the sky.
"We maintain abilities to be able to respond quickly and intercept missiles from North Korea if they do pose a threat to us or our allies," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
That is no idle threat, insists Chris Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.
"We are absolutely confident in the system," Johnson said. "Based on our history of testing, we are confident that the system would be able to defend the United States."
Yet critics continue to question the capability and reliability of America's multi-layered missile shield, even as the Pentagon insists the once-rudimentary system of radars and interceptors has come of age, after some $180 billion and nearly two decades of development. North Korea, meanwhile, seemss eager to test our limits, firing off another four intermediate-range missiles this weekend.
The U.S. breaks missile defense down into three phases: boost (on the way up), midcourse (in space) and terminal (on the way down).
If a North Korean missile were on a trajectory toward Japan, the first shot at it would likely be from a U.S. Navy destroyer, equipped with the Aegis system, designed to counter short and intermediate range missiles. READ MORE