By Sharon Watkins Lang (SMDC/ARSTRAT Command Historian)July 5, 2018
As Americans prepared to celebrate the July 4th holiday in June 2006, the American Ambassador to South Korea and the State Department continued to voice protests against the proposed North Korean flight test of a Taepodong-2 multi-stage missile; a launch which would violate a self-imposed moratorium observed by North Korea since 1998. With a potential range of 6,000 kilometers or 3,600 miles, the Taeodong-2 was capable of hitting Alaska and the western coast of the continental United States.
Ultimately, the Pentagon declared that any long-range missile launched by North Korea would be deemed a "provocative act."
In response to the perceived threat, U.S. Northern Command activated the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (Ground Based Midcourse Defense) and the 49th Missile Defense Battalion June 19, 2006, switching the nation's missile defense system, the GMD system, from a test to an operational level for the first time.
The American missile defense system in 2006 consisted of 11 missile defense interceptors located at Fort Greely, Alaska, two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and the Standard Missile-3s aboard Aegis class cruisers. Two of these cruisers were patrolling the area near Korea. These were augmented by an AN/TPY-2 high resolution tracking radar stationed in Japan.
Despite the negotiations, North Korea initiated the intricate fueling process for the Taepodong and continued to issue statements that it was prepared to go to war with nations that impose economic sanctions.
The situation culminated on July 4 as North Korea launched the first of seven missiles. Six missiles were launched on the 4th and a final missile in the morning of July 5. Despite the reputed capabilities of the Taepodong 2, the test missile failed approximately 40 seconds after launch and fell short into the Sea of Japan. The six other launches, shorter-range missiles, also landed in the northern part of the Sea of Japan.
Nevertheless, in Alaska the Soldiers of Echo Crew, 49th Missile Defense Battalion, supported by 100th Missile Defense Brigade Soldiers at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, were at the ready.
As the 100th Missile Defense Brigade commander, Col. Michael Yowell, noted in a later interview, they were "prepared to launch," if it came toward the United States, "the defended area."
Although the window was open with no advance notice of the proposed launch, USNORTHCOM successfully detected and tracked all seven missiles from launch to impact.
As Yowell noted during his change of command earlier that year, "We've come a long way since the days of Paul Revere awakening fellow citizens to the threat facing them. With today's technology, we can now defend against a threat not even imaginable then."