Things are heated on the Korean peninsula, and while there's plenty of talk from the North about launching a "cutting edge strike" on the United States, their missile capabilities are mostly limited to attacks against U.S. forces in South Korea or Japan.
But were they to actually launch missiles, America and its allies are far from defenseless.
"The United States maintains an array of forward deployed missile defense capabilities in the Republic of Korea," Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a defense spokesperson told Business Insider. "The Republic of Korea also has significant missile defense capabilities. While I can't disclose further operational details, I can tell you that we and our allies are well postured to defend against North Korean provocations."
First designed for an anti-aircraft role in the late 1970s, the Patriot was later modified to defend against ballistic missiles. With a radar that can pick up incoming missiles more than 60 miles away and armed with a high-explosive warhead, it's designed to launch missiles that detonate and produce shrapnel when it gets close to a threat, according to PBS.
The PATRIOT system was used extensively during the first Gulf War against Iraqi SCUD missiles, with varying degrees of success. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, however, they worked extremely well.
From a report of the Defense Science Board:
All nine enemy tactical ballistic missiles that threatened areas designated for Patriot defense were engaged. Eight of these engagements were observed by enough other sensors to conservatively declare them successes; the ninth engagement is judged to be a probable success. None of the attacking tactical ballistic missiles caused any damage or loss of life to the coalition forces.
Here's how it works:
The land-based PATRIOT system will soon be joined by U.S. ships en route to the area, the USS John McCain and the USS Decatur. Both are Aegis-class warships, meaning they're capable of intercepting and destroying ballistic missiles "above the atmosphere during the midcourse phase of a hostile ballistic missile's flight."
The holistic anti-North Korean missile system will also be bolstered soon by the deployment of another missile defense system to Guam, the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD).
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