(CNN) — The United States will deploy additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast as part of efforts to enhance the nation’s ability to defend itself from attack by North Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday.
Still relatively new in his post, the Pentagon chief told reporters that 14 additional interceptors to be installed by 2017 would bring the total to 44. It is part of a package of steps expected to cost $1 billion, officials said.
“The reason that we are doing what we are doing and the reason we are advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency,” Hagel said.
Friday’s move comes after North Korea recently threatened a pre-emptive nuclear attack on South Korea and the United States in response to stepped-up U.N. Security Council sanctions over its latest nuclear test.
North Korea also said last week it was nullifying the joint declaration on the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. One of the country’s top generals, according to published reports, claims Pyongyang has nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that are ready to be fired.
While Hagel said the steps he announced were aimed at addressing the threat from North Korea and Iran, the focus was clearly on the potential for North Korea to some day follow through on its belligerent rhetoric. Iran also is believed to be continuing its efforts to develop nuclear weapon capability.
Military and White House officials have said current U.S. missile defenses are adequate for the present level of threat, and President Barack Obama said in an interview with ABC News this week that he does not think…