DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, September 8, 1998 - 2:10 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: Ken, does the United States or the Pentagon have any evidence to support or refute North Korea's claim that what the United States and Japan said was a Taepo-Dong missile launch on the 31st, I believe, was in fact a satellite launch. And there are reports by the Tass News Agency that North Korea may be ready to launch another missile tomorrow.

A: On the first question, we are not able to confirm the North Korean assertion that it launched a satellite on August 31st. US SPACECOM, the Space Command, is in the process now of looking at a wide array of evidence that we have collected about this and will take some time to complete the analysis. But right now SPACECOM has not observed any object orbiting the earth that correlates with the orbit announced by the North Koreans in their public statements.

Second, SPACECOM has not observed any new object orbiting the earth in an orbital path that could correlate with North Korean claims.

Third, to the best of our knowledge, no U.S. radio receiver has been able to depict radio transmissions at 27 MHz. That's the frequency range in which North Korea said this satellite was broadcasting.

Having said all of that, I want to stress again that we're still looking at the facts. We're still analyzing the information that has been collected about this, and that will continue for some time.

Q: Is it possible that there could be an item there in orbit but it's too small to detect? How small can you go?

A: Much smaller... The Space Command can detect items much smaller than this satellite would be. So I don't think that's the issue.

The first issue here is that no matter what the purpose of the August 31st launch was, whether it was to launch a satellite or to do something else, it did demonstrate that the North Koreans have an ability to delivery payloads over a longer range with the new Taepo-Dong I missile, and that, of course, is worrisome. The North Koreans have said they were doing this to launch a satellite. So far we cannot confirm that they have successfully launched a satellite.

Q: Do you have any indication, defense officials said previously that you had indications that North Korea was going to launch a missile and therefore you were monitoring closely. Are there any indications that North Korea might be preparing to launch another missile or a satellite or whatever? And are you ready to monitor that?

A: You can be sure that we'll be ready to monitor any launches that we suspect are about to take place. We were ready to monitor this last launch. That's one of the reasons we were able to collect some information on it. As I say, it takes awhile to correlate and analyze all that information, and that's what the Space Command is doing now.

Q: Then you suspect that another is about to take place. Are there indications...

A: I don't want to comment on that at this stage.

Q: Is there any indication that there may have been a third stage from this rocket?

A: I think we should let the Space Command and the intelligence authorities complete their review on this before we get too deeply into the details. They still are doing that, and I think it would be premature to make firm statements about the exact equipment that was used and the exact purpose of the launch or the degree of success that they've realized in their launch at this stage.

Q: Can you talk about any efforts that might be underway to try and retrieve the missile that was fired?

A: I'm not aware that there are. That doesn't mean there aren't. I'm just not aware of any specific efforts.

Q: Now that you say they've demonstrated the ability to deliver a payload over a longer distance, do you think that U.S. troops in Japan and other areas of the Pacific are facing a greater danger from North Korea?

A: I think that any country that would contemplate using weapons to attack United States troops abroad would have to expect a very swift and decisive, perhaps even a massive response. I'm sure the North Koreans are aware of that. If they're not, they should be aware of it now.

Q: In light of North Korea's growing capabilities, are you guys reviewing the pace of missile defense work?

A: First of all, missile defense work is something into which we're putting a lot of time, money and effort, as you know, for theater missile defense and national missile defense as well.

Let me divide the two. Most of the reports recently have been about theater missile defense programs, the THAAD program and some of the problems with that program. General Lyles has been down here to brief you on that, and I think you have a pretty good sense of where that program stands now.

The national missile defense program is one where we have a so-called "three plus three" program. Three years in development and then starting in the year 2000 three years to deploy if a decision is made to deploy in the year 2000 -- in other words, three years from a decision to deploy, to actually deploy.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the national missile defense program and the theater missile defense programs recently, and it is their belief that these are important programs, that they are currently on the right schedule for the threats that they believe we face, and more importantly, it's not simply a question of adding money to these programs or setting arbitrary scheduled acceleration goals. It's a matter of making the current programs work. That's what the missile designers and builders are trying to do right now.

So the answer is, we have not set out to accelerate either one of these programs. We believe we are working as quickly as we can, and what's more, we don't believe at this stage that a huge infusion of money into either one of these programs would produce commensurate results at this stage.

Q: On that subject, both houses of Congress are expected to consider this week or next the resolution one way or another, kind of goad the Clinton Administration into speaking up for national missile defense. Neither one of them have a time table, neither one of them dictates a... one says as soon as possible but the other just declares it as a policy.

Does the Administration have any difficulty with either of those two resolutions?

A: The issue, I guess, is realistic expectations at this stage. The military and the leadership of this Department -- Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, everybody on down -- very much wants to develop a better theater missile defense capability and we're working on several programs to do that. The question of national missile defense is complex and very contentious politically. On that program the Chiefs believe that the current "three plus three" program is about as ambitious as we can be. It's both a fiscally and tactically prudent schedule, the "three plus three". We're getting close to the end of the development period, and into the period where we would be willing to deploy in three years after a decision to deploy.

So we are working on both of these programs. Obviously we need to do more and have more success with the theater missile defense program. It's been a very technologically challenging program. It's a difficult problem, one that can only be resolved by hard work at this stage.


Press: Thank you.