If nuclear missiles were suddenly fired at the United States from North Korea, the U.S. is ready to shoot them down.
That's the opinion of Major Gen. John Holly, head of the missile-shield program for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.
"If directed, we could provide a limited defense against an attack out of Northeast Asia," Holly told Alaska lawmakers, according to the Associated Press.
But he also acknowledged it would have to be a small attack, since there are only eight interceptor missiles in place in Alaska and California.
Fort Greely, Alaska, currently houses six interceptors, with another 10 expected by the end of the year. Vandenberg Air Force Base in California has two interceptors.
Even though President Bush has not declared the system operational, Holly said it could be switched on during an emergency situation.
The program has seen both successes and failures in its testing, with consecutive failures in recent months. In December and February, interceptor missiles failed to launch in attempts to hit targets over the Pacific Ocean.
"Those are very disappointing events. Neither of them dealt with fundamental design issues of the overall system," Holly said, attributing the failures to a software glitch and a faulty retracting arm.
The glitches came under scrutiny in Washington this week, as the Pentagon defended the missile-defense program to lawmakers.
"I have a real problem that a latch did not fall away – that seems so elementary," said Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., who chairs the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
"This stuff costs an awful lot of money, and we have to have some results," Everett said, according to CongressDaily.
It costs the federal government between $80 million and $100 million for each full test, and Holly said the failed tests cost $20 million to $30 million less.
Not everyone at the Pentagon is as optimistic as Holly about the readiness of the shield.
David Duma, acting director of operational test and evaluation, said system is not operationally ready.
"We don't have a demonstrated capability from detection to negating the incoming threat," he said, according to CongressDaily. But Duma added he was encouraged by developments in the last year, which are leading to more realistic testing.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, is among those questioning the recent failures, but still expressed support for the program.
"We should not pretend that [this] is an all-star system when it is still in development in the minor leagues," Reyes said. "You can ruin a ballplayer by rushing him to the big leagues, and you can ruin this system by making it run before it can even prove it can walk."