WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration will add 14 interceptors to a West Coast-based missile defense system, reflecting concern about North Korea's focus on developing nuclear weapons and its advances in long-range missile technology, defense officials have confirmed to CBS News.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made the announcement Friday, saying the purpose of the move was to to "stay ahead of the threat" posed by both North Korea and Iran.
The Pentagon intends to add the 14 interceptors to 30 already in place in California and Alaska. That will expand the system's ability to shoot down long-range missiles in flight before they could reach U.S. territory.
Hagel said the goal was to have the additional 14 interceptors in place by 2017, adding that the beefed up security signals to the world that "the U.S. stands firm against aggression."
James Miller, defense undersecretary for policy, said in a speech Tuesday that the Pentagon has the ability to deploy up to 14 additional missile interceptors, "if needed." He did not say in the speech that a decision had been made to do so.
"As we think about our homeland missile-defense posture, we do not have a `just-in-time' policy," Miller said. "Our policy is to stay ahead of the threat — and to continue to ensure that we are ahead of any potential future Iranian or North Korean ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability."
Miller noted that last December, North Korea launched a satellite into space, demonstrating its mastery of some of the same technologies required for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
"Our concern about Pyongyang's potential ICBM capability is compounded by the regime's focus on developing nuclear weapons. North Korea's third nuclear test last month is obviously a serious concern for all nations," he said.
North Korea recently threatened to reduce Seoul to a "sea of fire" and stage pre-emptive nuclear attacks on Washington.
"North Korea's shrill public pronouncements underscore the need for the U.S. to continue to take prudent steps to defeat any future North Korean ICBM," Miller said in his speech on Tuesday.