US confident it can thwart N.Korean missiles: US general

Tensions are high over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, with the nation conducting tests and launches as it looks to develop a rocket that can deliver a warhead to the US mainland

The Pentagon can defend against any North Korean missile threat, but Pyongyang's rapidly evolving weapons program is shrinking the warning time ahead of a launch, a top US general said Thursday.

General Lori Robinson told lawmakers she was "extremely confident" of US capability to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) bound for America, should North Korean leader Kim Jong-un succeed in developing that technology.

"Right now... he can't reach our homeland, but I am confident, should he do that," said Robinson, who heads the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) that provides missile detection and defense for the region.

Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, the latest in a string of recent missile tests just ahead of President Donald Trump's summit with China's Xi Jinping, at which North Korea was set to dominate the agenda.

The Pentagon says Wednesday's test was of an extended-range Scud missile that suffered an in-flight failure before crashing into the sea.

Scuds are filled with liquid fuel that make them harder to transport and prepare for launch than the more sophisticated solid-fuel rockets that the United States and other nations use.

North Korea is now building and testing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a solid-fuel motor that could be carried by a small, easily hidden road convoy.

On February 11, Pyongyang said it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile powered by a solid-fuel engine.

Such rockets are harder for existing US and South Korean technology to detect, Robinson warned.

"Amidst an unprecedented pace of North Korean strategic weapons testing, our ability to provide actionable warning continues to diminish," Robinson said in written testimony to senators.

Robinson told lawmakers that America must continue to invest in the latest sensors and radar systems to keep up with threats.

"As adversaries continue to pursue credible and advanced capabilities, we too must evolve our missile defense capabilities to outpace increasingly complex threats," she said.