If North Korea launches nuclear warheads at the United States, the U.S. anti-missile system may need to shoot the nukes down over Russian territory, according to an expert on nuclear and missile proliferation in Northeast Asia.
“[I]ntercepting the shots aimed at mainland targets means flying out toward Russia,” wrote Joshua Pollack, senior research associate at The Nonproliferation Review. “Defending a West Coast target even means engaging the attacking RV [warhead’s reentry vehicle] above the Russian Far East. Yikes.”
The United States has multiple missile defense systems. The Patriot missiles and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) can shoot down a missile while it approaches its target and are meant to intercept missiles of shorter range.
To stop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), the country would use Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD), which aims to destroy the incoming missile midcourse—while it’s still in space.
The United States has 32 GMD interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. By the end of the year, it plans to add eight more in Alaska.