US scouting sites on West Coast for anti-missile defences

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Reacting to North Korea's weapons tests

WASHINGTON The US agency tasked with protecting the country from missile attacks is scouting the west coast for places to deploy new anti-missile defences, two Congressmen said on Saturday, as North Korea's missile tests raise concerns about how the US would defend itself from an attack.

West coast defences would likely include Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) anti-ballistic missiles, similar to those deployed in South Korea to protect against a potential North Korean attack.

The accelerated pace of North Korea's ballistic missile testing programme this year and the likelihood the North Korean military could hit the US mainland with a nuclear payload in the next few years has raised the pressure on the US government to build up missile defences.

Last Wednesday, North Korea tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that can fly more than 13,000km, placing Washington within target range.

Congressman Mike Rogers, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, which oversees missile defence, said the Missile Defence Agency (MDA), was aiming to install extra defences at west coast sites.

The funding for the system does not appear in the 2018 defence budget plan, indicating potential deployment is further off.

"It is just a matter of the location, and the MDA making a recommendation as to which site meets their criteria for location, but also the environmental impact," the Alabama Republican said.

When asked about the plan, MDA's deputy director, Rear Admiral Jon Hill, said in a statement: "The Missile Defence Agency has received no tasking to site the Terminal High Altitude Air Defence System on the west coast."

The MDA is a unit of the US Defence Department.

Mr Rogers did not reveal the exact locations the agency is considering but said several sites are "competing" for the missile defence installations.

Mr Rogers and Congressman Adam Smith said the government was considering installing the Thaad anti-missile system.

Both said the number of sites where it may ultimately be deployed had yet to be determined.

Thaad is a ground-based regional missile defence system designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and takes only a few weeks to install.

Meanwhile, North Korea blasted the US and South Korea as "warmongers" on the eve of their largest joint air exercise, saying it could trigger a nuclear war.

The comments came as White House National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster warned of the "increasing" possibility of war with the North.

Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry accused the Trump administration of "begging for nuclear war" by staging what it called the reckless air drills.

Mr McMaster said the possibility of war with the North was "increasing every day".