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Video aired on North Korea’s state broadcaster KRT showed leader Kim Jong Un attending a concert to celebrate last week’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
AP

North Korea’s rapid march to develop a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of striking the United States has spurred the U.S. military and Congress to ramp up efforts to counter the threat.

The U.S. technological race is happening on the ground, at sea, in the air and in space. But military planners say the greatest benefit of the massive missile defense effort is to deter North Korea from contemplating a strike.

“Missile defense buys you time and opens windows,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project at the Center for Security and International Studies. “The way you protect yourself from a missile attack is through deterrence. You show your adversary that you can hold them off and strike back at them.”

North Korea’s latest missile launch on July 4 was its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The Hwasong-14 had a maximum range of about 4,163 miles, meaning it could hit targets in Alaska but not the contiguous U.S. mainland or the larger islands of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean.

Surveillance of the missile left unclear whether it successfully re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

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The North Korean government said its missiles can hit anywhere in the world with a nuclear warhead, but the U.S. government doubts the regime of Kim Jong Un has developed a miniaturized warhead or delivery vehicle needed to accomplish that.

North Korea may be only a year or so away from that feat, according to U.S. estimates, which is why the Pentagon is stepping up its anti-missile program.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. military successfully intercepted a simulated intermediate-range ballistic missile using the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system similar to one being deployed in South Korea.

The test was the first by THAAD against a missile that is faster and more difficult to target than shorter-range missiles.

In another first, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency used a ground-based interceptor launched from a silo in Vanderberg Air Force Base in California to successfully shoot down a U.S.-launched mock intercontinental ballistic missile fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific in May.

The U.S. currently has 36 such interceptors deployed and plans to have 44 in place by the end of 2017, based at Vandenburg and in Fort Greely, Alaska.

Congress in 2013 required the Defense Department to research a third site for ground-based interceptors to defend the U.S. East Coast, in addition to the silos in Alaska and California.

This year, House Republicans proposed that the Pentagon conduct research and development on space-based missile defense interceptors — a version of the “Star Wars” system that President Ronald Reagan championed in the 1980s as a deterrent against Soviet nuclear missiles.

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