U.S. Ready to Respond to N.Korea Missile

Admiral Keating says the U.S. is prepared to shoot down a North Korean missile.

ByMartha Raddatz and Lauren Sher
February 26, 2009, 2:12 PM

Feb. 26, 2009— -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Adm. Timothy Keating, head of the U.S. Pacific Commands, said that the military is prepared to shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile -- if President Obama should give the order.

"If a missile leaves the launch pad we'll be prepared to respond upon direction of the president," Keating told ABC News. "I'm not a betting man but I'd go like 60/40, 70/30 that it will, they will attempt to launch a satellite. There's equipment moving up there that would indicate the preliminary stages of preparation for a launch. So I'd say it's more than less likely."

"Should it look like it's not a satellite launch -- that it's something other than a satellite launch -- we'll be ready to respond."

Intelligence reports suggest that North Korea is preparing a long-range missile test. Earlier this week, North Korea announced its plans to send a satellite into orbit as part of its space program.

However, many in the international community assert that North Korea's satellite test is simply a means of concealing a long-range missile test -- a move that would flare existing tension in the region.

Keating said that the military is ready to respond with at least five different systems: destroyer, Aegis cruiser, radar, space-based system and ground-based interceptor. All of these work in conjunction with one another to protect against any missile threat.

"We will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs," Keating said. "Everything that we need to be ready is ready. So that's ready twice in one sentence, but we're not kidding, it doesn't take much for us to be fully postured to respond."

Missile Launch a 'Stern Test' of Obama

In the U.S. arsenal is a "very sophisticated and complex, but effective ballistic missile-defense system," Keating says, which would provide a line of attack against any kind of ballistic missile or warhead that springs from a North Korean launch pad.

Ground-based interceptors, he says, will be able to take down an object other than a satellite. And while they have not moved ships into place yet, Keating says he is prepared to do so at a moment's notice.

Experts say that North Korea's announcement of its satellite launch is an attempt to put Pyongyang on President Obama's radar.

"It's a fairly stern test early of President Obama and his administration," Keating said.

Members of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of [North] Korea, a state body, chastised critics Thursday, saying it would retaliate against those who attempt to disrupt its satellite plan. Keating says the U.S. military is keeping a close eye on the launch pad, but does not want to jump the gun.

"We're intentionally being a little more cautious and a little more reserved as to not stimulate unnecessary activity in North Korea," he said. "We want to do no harm, if you will."

Nevertheless, Keating says that his priority first and foremost is defending the United States.

"If that means we detect a missile that is a threat to U.S. territory, then we are going to defend U.S. territory. And [if] we hit what we're aiming at that should be a source of great confidence and reassurance to our allies and partners."

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