The United States are taking threats of a nuclear attack from North Korea seriously, and are making preparations to defend against a nuclear weapon attack, a senior U.S. military official has said.
Admiral Bill Gortney has said that North Korea do possess nuclear weapons and are capable of miniaturising them, enabling them to put them on a rocket that could reach mainland United States.
“We assess that they have the capability to reach the homeland with a nuclear weapon from a rocket,” Gortney told an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank.
Gortney said it was very difficult to predict the behavior of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but the U.S. military was prepared to respond if he were to use a nuclear weapon.
“We’re ready for him, and we’re ready 24 hours a day if he should be dumb enough to shoot something at us,” Gortney said.
“I’m pretty confident that we’re going to knock down the numbers that are going to be shot.”
North Korea’s space agency said last month Pyongyang was building a new satellite and readying it for launch, with any use of a long-range rocket suggesting that the secretive state has made advances developing a ballistic missile.
North Korea says its rocket launches are part of a legitimate space program aimed at putting satellites into orbit. It has in the past conducted missile tests in defiance of international warnings and sanctions.
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said in March North Korea could achieve the ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile this year.
On Wednesday, Gortney said the U.S. military was investing to modernize its current missile defense system, add new sensors and radars to better identify potential missile launches, and drive down the cost of defending against such attacks.
He warned that the failure of the U.S. Congress to pass a budget for fiscal year 2016, or a resumption of mandatory budget cuts, could jeopardize the funding needed for such efforts.