April 28, 2017 11:15
U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris on Wednesday named North Korea as the "most imminent threat" to the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific and urged lawmakers to support the deployment of advanced American weapons in the region.
Harris was speaking at the House Armed Services Committee, where he devoted two-thirds of his opening statement to the North Korean standoff.
He also told the committee that the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery being set up in South Korea will become operational "in the coming days," which will give the two allies the capacity to deal with North Korean provocations.
But Harris brushed off Chinese concerns that the THAAD deployment would heighten regional tensions. "I find it preposterous that China would try to influence South Korea to not get a weapons system that's completely defensive against the very country that's allied with China," Harris said. "So if China wants to do something constructive then they ought to focus less, in my opinion, on South Korea's defensive preparations and focus instead more on North Korea's offensive preparations."
Harris also voiced confidence in the "armada" that has now arrived in waters near the Korean Peninsula, saying the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Carl Vinson's fighter jets could reach North Korea in about two hours if called on for a mission.
"I'm confident in that strike group's ability to not only defend itself but to project power, if that is the call that we receive from the president and secretary of defense," Harris added.
He warned that North Korea's submarine capabilities are becoming more sophisticated and said a nuclear-powered U.S. submarine, the Michigan, will be joining operations in waters around the Korean Peninsula in a few days. It is now docked at Busan.
Harris also warned of the intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea is developing, saying the North will soon be capable of delivering nuclear warheads on ICBMs.
He urged lawmakers to consider deploying additional strike weapons in Hawaii, which is within reach of North Korean ICBMs. "I have suggested that we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that defend Hawaii directly and that we look at the defensive Hawaii radar to improve Hawaii's capability," he said.
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