President Trump's tweeted threat to North Korea may signal a willingness by the U.S. to do something it has never done before — attempt to shoot down an enemy missile in a real world scenario.
"Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely," Trump tweeted this morning, escalating a war of words that North Korea said earlier Friday is "driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war."
While Trump added, "Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!" the Pentagon has confirmed military options have been drawn up.
"Do I have military options? Of course I do," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Thursday. "And of course, there's a military solution."
Mattis stressed the focus remains on diplomacy, which he insisted is "gaining traction," while reiterating his warning that all-out war with North Korea would be "catastrophic."
But one obvious option for the U.S. is the anti-missile systems deployed on U.S. ships in the region as well as on land in both Guam and South Korea.
"Working in tandem, both U.S. and Japanese sea and land-based missile defense systems would shoot down the North Korean missiles," said James Carafano, of the Heritage Foundation. "If they were flying over Japanese territory or heading in the direction of Guam, they would take them out."
Shooting down the missiles would be seen as purely an act of self-defense, and would send a powerful message to Kim that his missiles are not as nearly threatening as he believes.
While untested in battle, the ground-based THAAD [Terminal High Altitude Area Defense] system is 15 for 15 in tests against mock North Korean-style medium range missiles.
And the U.S. and Japan have been jointly testing a new interceptor missile for the ship-based Aegis system, which is 1 for 2 in early testing.
But analysts say while the initial response to any North Korean provocation would likely be defensive, the president could also decide to punish Pyongyang with an offensive strike.
"Let's be honest here. The Obama policy of ‘strategic patience' has been an abject failure, and now Trump must clean up the resulting mess," said Loren Thompson, Chief Operating Officer of the Lexington Institute. "That may require offensive military action."
The Heritage Foundation's Carafano agrees.
"I do think the U.S. would take a proportional retaliatory response," he told the Washington Examiner Friday. "Likely, bomb launch sites, airfields or some related military facility with conventional arms."
But he thinks Kim Jong Un will take Trump's ultimatum seriously, despite the bluster coming out of Pyongyang.
"Faced with the prospects of this kind of response I again think it is highly unlikely North Korea will do anything to begin with," Carafano said.