North Korea is expected Friday to complete fueling a long-range missile and could be ready to launch it as early as the day after the Super Bowl, a U.S. defense official tells Fox News.
The latest estimate from U.S. intelligence expects the North Korean missile launch to occur as early as Monday in a window between Feb 8-10.
In anticipation of the North Korean launch in the coming days, the U.S. Navy has positioned a Japan-based guided-missile destroyer, outfitted with the latest anti-ballistic missile defense technology to successfully shoot down the missile if the U.S. military thinks it is a threat to the homeland.
So far, the Pentagon anticipates North Korea’s expected launch next week will mirror a similar one in 2012 that brought a satellite into space, and does not anticipate the missile will carry a nuclear warhead.
But a U.S. defense official told Fox News earlier this week the concern is "the components are the same" between launching a satellite into space and launching a nuclear weapon capable of taking out Los Angeles.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday the U.S. military would track the North Korean missile launch. Carter declined to name specific assets in the region nor discuss any ship movements.
Earlier this week, North Korea notified the U.N. that it will launch an earth observation satellite sometime between Feb 8-25.
This development comes weeks after North Korea detonated a nuclear weapon deep underground at a known nuclear test site. North Korea claimed it tested a hydrogen bomb, but Carter said "I don’t think they were as successful as they claimed" earlier this week.
Ahead of the expected launch, Japan has deployed PAC-3 missile batteries in the downtown Tokyo to shoot down any rocket debris, according to the Associated Press.
The last time North Korea launched a rocket into space was 2012 to deliver a satellite into orbit. It is unclear if that satellite remains in space. At the time, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said the missile "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit." The United States condemned the launch as "provocative."
The U.N. Security Council also condemned the 2012 North Korean rocket launch days later saying it violated a 2009 council resolution banning any missile launch "using ballistic missile technology."
The December 2012 launch of a Unha 3 rocket bringing the "Bright Star" satellite into space was hailed in North Korea as a matter of great national pride.
In April 2015, the U.S. commander of NORAD, tasked with protecting the homeland was confident the U.S. could shoot down a North Korean nuclear missile.
“Should one get airborne and come at us, I'm confident that we'll be able to knock it down,” said Gortney.
But Gortney warned that the latest U.S. intelligence estimate said North Korea did have the capability to launch a nuclear strike on the continental United States.
“Our assessment is that they have the ability to put it on -- a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland. And that's the way we think. That's our assessment of the process. We haven't seen them test the KN-08 yet and we're waiting to do that. But it doesn't necessarily mean that they will fly before they test it.”