Nightly News   |  March 15, 2013

US to beef up missile defense in Alaska

In a sign that the US considers North Korea a serious threat to America, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned it’s North Korea’s long-range missiles prompted the US military to bolster its missile defense system in Alaska by 50 percent. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> why now or why today, but late today at the pentagon the defense secretary , chuck hagel , made an announcement that sounded like something more from the height of the cold war than mid-march of 2013 . the u.s. is bolstering nuclear missile defenses in alaska and japan because of the threat mostly from north korea but also from iran. and there are actually sources telling us tonight the u.s. is scrambling and going to this effort and expense -- roughly a billion dollars -- because they believe the north korean nuclear program is further along than they first thought, and their nuclear weapons , after all, are in the hands of an untested 28-year-old leader. it is where we begin tonight with our pentagon correspondent jim miklaszewski on assignment tonight in st. louis. jim, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. with today's announcement about beefing up u.s. missile defenses, the obama administration revealing that it now considers north korea to be a serious threat against america's homeland. north korean leader kim jong un today reviewed his troops during military exercises . at the pentagon defense secretary chuck hagel warned its north korea 's long-range missile that have sounded the alarm.

>> but north korea in particular has recently made advances in its capabilities and has engaged in a series of irresponsible and reckless provocation.

>> reporter: to counter the growing threat from north korea , the u.s. military will bolster the missile defense system in alaska by 50%, adding 14 interceptor missiles at fort greeley designed to intercept and destroy missiles aimed at the continental u.s. the u.s. military will install a high-powered radar in japan to improve early warning capabilities. but why the deep concern now? remarkably, it ramped up last april during this military parade through the streets of pyongyang. u.s. intelligence was shocked to see what appeared to be long-range ballistic missiles that can be fired from mobile launchers with the capability of reaching the u.s. armed with a nuclear warhead .

>> obviously without getting into intelligence aspects we watched this evolving threat very, very closely.

>> reporter: the latest threat emerged as north korea launched a satellite into space orbit last december, and conducted a successful underground nuclear test last month.

>> they have technological hurdles but this is a near-term threat.

>> reporter: just recently north korea publically threatened a preemptive nuclear threat against the u.s. as the u.s. strengthens missile defenses kim jong un was warned today, don't even think about it.

>> we believe this young lad ought to be deterred by that. if he's not, we'll be ready.

>> reporter: it will be two to three years before that entire missile system in alaska is up and running. and the $1 billion additional it will take to pay for it all won't show up in the budget until next year.

>> i wonder how the phrase "young lad" will translate into north korea tonight. jim, thanks.