News Release

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, September 17, 1998 - 1:55 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: Could you clarify for us, there are reports out of Japan that part of this North Korean missile might have landed near Alaska. Do you have any information about that?

A: I have no information about it. First of all, as I understand it the only way we have to trace the debris of this missile is through radar tapes, and there is considerable disagreement within our own intelligence community as to how to interpret these tapes. We are continuing, our analysts are continuing, to meet to try to reach a consensus position on this and other questions stemming from that August 31st missile launch.

Q: Is there any evidence that there was a warhead that might have gotten...

A: I'm not aware that there is any evidence of a warhead.

Q: But there's no disagreement about what it was.

A: We believe that they tried and failed to launch a satellite. That hasn't changed.

Q: Will you then just explain a little bit further the question of the disagreement over the dispersal of the debris field. Can you quantify the ranges where the disagreement is? Nautical miles versus nautical miles?

A: No, I don't choose to do that. It's a disagreement on interpreting data at this stage. It could well be resolved. But I don't think whether it went X or X plus 1,000 kilometers is really relevant. What's relevant here is what I stressed last Tuesday and what the State Department has stressed as well, is that that three stage missile with a solid fuel third stage was an advance that shows they have greater capability to fire payloads over longer distances. That is worrisome to us. We are engaged in missile talks with the North Koreans, and we hope that we can succeed in those talks, in convincing them not to continue. But North Koreans are not easy to deal with on these issues.

Q: Is there disagreement about whether this third stage actually reentered the atmosphere or whether it simply burned up and never reentered?

A: That, I believe, is part of the disagreement -- exactly what happened to the third stage.

Q: Whether there was reentry?

A: Well, whether any debris actually reached the ocean.

Q: You said Tuesday that based on the information you had, you estimated the capability of the North Korean missile at 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers which would put it in the range of Alaska going in that direction. So I'm a little confused as to what the disagreement is about the debris field near Alaska. What's the disagreement...

A: I didn't say anything about anything near Alaska. I didn't talk about Alaska. Depending on the path the missile took, where it was aimed, it would go different places.

Our belief is that they attempted to launch a satellite and failed.

I was asked a specific question about dispersion of debris and I said that that is still being analyzed by the experts who pay attention to this stuff.

The dispersion of the debris is not necessarily an indication of what the reach of this or any other missile would be. The reach of a missile is a combination of a number of factors. One is the amount of fuel it carries, which determines how quickly it accelerates, what velocity it attains. The second is the weight of the missile, specifically the weight of the payload. There's also consideration of what that might be, how much the payload might have weighed in this situation. It takes a huge engine, a large rocket to launch a large payload, and a much smaller rocket to launch a smaller payload over whatever your distance range is.

I suppose you could make an analogy to a race car. There are three considerations. You could have a huge engine on a heavy race car that would be slower than a comparably sized engine on a much lighter race car, so the size of the engine, the propulsive unit and the weight of the vehicle are both factors. A third factor would be the solidity or strength of your vehicle. If you had a huge engine on a very light race car, it would go very fast but it would fall apart if it weren't strong. It would shake apart. So another aspect is the strength of the vehicle and its ability to withstand pressures, both going up and coming down.

So there are a number of considerations here that come into play in determining what the capability of this missile or rocket would be and the effectiveness of its payload.

Suffice it to say it is our conclusion, and we've said this many times, that what they attempted to do was a failure. They attempted, by their own admission, to launch a satellite and we believe they failed.

Q: Does the Pentagon believe that the solid fuel capability was indigenously developed or acquired?

A: I think that we do not have a theory on that at this stage.

Q: Is there still any evidence that the North Koreans, any evidence of activity around that launch site that could indicate preparation for another launch?

A: Not that I'm aware of. No.

Q: Is this missile and the dispersion patterns and all of that the reason for Mr. Hamre's sudden trip...

A: No. That trip I believe had been planned before. He's going to both Japan and Korea. He's meeting with troops in both places. As you know, we have 100,000 troops forward deployed in Asia, about 100,000 troops, and he's going to meet with some of those troops.

Q: Indirectly related to the North Korean missile launch and missile proliferation by the North Koreans. I would ask about the U.S. reaction to the success in the Israeli Arrow 2 Program. I understand within a year Arrow 2 may be operational, and I would simply want to know what is... Is Arrow something that could be available to Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, other threatened allies of ours? And what specifically, I understand the Arrow 2 is different than the THAAD. Can you tell us about the distinction between the two? Is there anything the Arrow can do that the THAAD has not yet been able to do?

A: I am unable to give you a lengthy technical description of the Arrow, but in principle I'm sure the program would be available to other allies should they need it.

What I can tell you about the Arrow is that it is designed for a situation where the owner of the Arrow knows the vector of attack. It is designed specifically to deal with attacks from that area. It's not movable. It doesn't have a 360 degree field, as I understand it.

We face a different issue when we deploy our troops around the world in both theater missile defense and national missile dense at home, which is not knowing all the time from which direction we might be attacked. So we need a different sort of system that has a broader defensive field. That's my understanding of the primary difference, but I think probably I should get you a precise description of the Arrow and how it differs from other theater missile defense possibilities.

Q: Is it possible, or do you know if it's possible, if the range and the speed of the Arrow could...

A: I've told you everything I know about the Arrow. You can ask me a 100 questions from now on and I'm not going to answer one of them. I will try to get you some more information on that.

Basically, though, the Arrow is being developed by Israel, and Israel, as you know, tested the Arrow earlier this week, I think on Monday, and maybe your questions about the Arrow's capability would be more properly directed to Israel.

Q: The United States does, though, have a contract arrangement with Israel for taking the technology, using it by the United States, and possibly by allies, is that...

A: I didn't say that. What I said was that theoretically if the Arrow works in Israel and if other countries found that it could help them meet their defensive needs, theoretically I would imagine the Arrow technology or some parts of it could be available to other American allies. But I haven't looked into that particular aspect.

Right now I think the Israelis are continuing to develop the program, and I suspect a lot of people would like to wait and see how the program develops.


Press: Thank you.