A medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, during a test of a missile interception system Japan is seeking to bolster its defense against North Korea. Photo: US Navy via AFP/Latonja Martin

The US is working on taking out incoming North Korean missiles during the initial boost phase – the period just after launch – a key US Navy admiral said at a Washington conference on Wednesday.

USNI News quoted Rear Adm. Jon Hill, deputy director of the US Missile Defense Agency, as saying that missile defense honchos are confident that this capability will be developed in the not too distant future.

Hill reportedly made the comments while speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He also assured those attending the event on maritime security that the continental US is safe for the moment from North Korean missiles, but that his team is continuing to focus on how to defend against an ever-evolving threat.

“The defense system we have in place today will defend against the threat as we understand it today. What we’re concerned about is tomorrow’s threat as it continues to increase,” USNI quoted Hill as saying.

With nations like North Korea and Iran continuing to improve their missile technology, Hill reportedly says the Missile Defense Agency’s goal is building and maintaining a robust layered defense system in which ship-based and land-based radar and interceptors closely coordinate with satellites.

In pursuit of this goal, Hill noted that collecting data on enemy missile launches as early as possible is key. He noted that Aegis radar systems on guided missile destroyers are one of the most effective tools the US has in detecting a hostile launch as soon as it occurs.

“If that ship is based, is properly placed up forward, it gets an early detection, and can cue the ground-based missile defense,” Hill said. “It allows them to detect a lot earlier and shoot a lot earlier.”

On the downside, Hill said that while positioning ships close to an enemy coastline gives an edge in figuring the missile’s track, he conceded that such deployments can also interfere with a fighting fleet’s overall operational pace and effectiveness.

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