Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno, (Guam) Pacific Daily News
HAGÅTÑA, Guam - As North Korea has become increasingly bellicose, telling foreign embassies Friday that they might want to evacuate its capital and claiming its military has approval to launch a nuclear attack, the U.S. Defense Department said a missile defense system is being moved to this Pacific island.
In the past two weeks North Korean officials have mentioned Andersen Air Force Base in Yigo, Guam, among potential targets of their military might. South Korea's defense minister said Thursday that the North Koreans moved a missile with considerable range to their east cost.
STORY: Pyongyang rumblings don't affect S. Korea
STORY: N. Korea approves 'merciless' U.S. attack
Moving a U.S. land-based missile defense system to Guam designed to knock down hostile missiles in the upper atmosphere "gives us some comfort," Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo said.
"The concern we have is all you need is that one lucky shot, and that lucky shot from a North Korean missile could do a lot of damage to our island home," the Republican governor said Friday on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront.
"We're not under the original North American missile defense system," Calvo said earlier. "We do not fall under this protective blanket." The island, which has been a U.S. territory since 1898, is about 5,800 miles southwest of San Francisco and 2,100 miles southeast of North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.
The North Korean missile moved in a show of force likely is a Musudan rocket capable of carrying a 1.2-ton bomb, Voice of America reported. Its range is a little less than 2,000 miles but potentially within range to hit here.
The Defense Department had planned to develop a $242 million Army Ballistic Missile Defense Task Force on Guam but mothballed it in 2010 because of spending concerns from some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
This week's announcement will put a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, known as THAAD, on the island, but the number of personnel that will accompany it is unclear. The Army has three THAAD batteries, and all are located at Fort Bliss, Texas, the El Paso Times reported.
"I am encouraged that the Pentagon will soon be deploying a THAAD missile defense system to Guam to defend our island and the Asia-Pacific region," said Madeleine Z. Bordallo, the territory's Democratic delegate in the U.S. House. "The Pentagon and the White House have assured our community on Guam that our military is ready to respond to any threat to our country and our allies."
Bordallo said she hopes Congress now recognizes that further delays in the military expansion plans for Guam and the broader Asia-Pacific realignment of the U.S. military's forces "make our allies question our commitment to the region."
The island, along with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands about 120 miles to the northwest, is the farthest west of the U.S. territories though other Pacific countries have U.S. military bases.
Island Sen. Frank Aguon Jr., the Democratic chairman of the legislative committee that deals with island issues, said he hopes deployment of the missile defense system "will further emphasize the need for a more permanent stationing of this type of military equipment on the island." The THAAD system includes missile interceptors launched from trucks.
He also wants sirens that would warn residents during an attack or tsunami to be installed across the 209-square-mile island, a project held up because of a years-long procurement dispute.
Ron McNinch, an associate professor of public administration at the University of Guam in Mangilao, doubts North Korea can attack Guam, but he said the totalitarian government likes to send agents abroad.
Guam officials should be concerned about attempts to sabotage the island's infrastructure, McNinch said.
"While we are confident that our military and president will defend national security, all our people - our families - must take essential steps to ensure safety in times of disaster," said island Sen. Aline Yamashita, a Republican.
The United States has deployed additional ships and other deterrent forces close to South Korea, and island Sen. Chris Dueñas, also a Republican, said it's good to have additional capabilities on Guam.
"I've always felt confident that the region is covered," Duenas said. "And this addition is welcome."
Contributing: Raju Chebium, Gannett Washington Bureau