North Korea has fired a ballistic missile (link) that failed and caps off the past two days, in the capital of the United States, has brought forward the highest level of public awareness for our nation’s need for missile defense to defend against the ballistic missile threat from North Korea to the United States. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, addressed the House of Representatives (Link to video of the testimony) and the United States Senate (Link to video of the testimony). President Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed 100 United States Senators in a private briefing at the White House (Link).
The ominous briefing by the Commander in Chief and administration officials on the North Korean ballistic missile threat to Guam, to Hawaii, to California and to the United States of America was not about if, it was about when and what all the options to stop North Korea in its nuclear proliferation and to defend the U.S. when North Korean attempts to launch a ballistic missile with range to strike the United States and test a nuclear bomb that could be placed on that missile. The stoic seriousness of Admiral Harris testimony who is in command of the Pacific Region for the United States of America came across in elevated concern “I believe that across the range of integrated air missile defense, IAMD, that we can and need to do more. I believe that the interceptors that we have that defend our homeland directly in Alaska and California are critical. I have suggested that we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that defend Hawaii directly, and that we look at the defensive Hawaii radar to improve Hawaii’s capability.”
The two focus areas identified to Congress where our nation’s ballistic missile defense systems are most stressed from the North Korean ballistic missile threat is Hawaii and South Korea.
South Korea has had a significant capability gap for ballistic missile defense of its population from North Korea Ballistic Missiles that is finally being addressed and resolved by the United States with the deployment of the THAAD system that will be operationally in a few days.
“That’s why the ROK-U.S. Alliance decided last July to deploy THAAD, which will be operational in the coming days in order to defend South Korea against a growing North Korean threat.” – Admiral Harris, April 26, 2017.
Yesterday, President Trump requested that South Korea pay for the $1 billion system that the United States is providing and is in place for the defense of South Korea. (Link)
“But Kim Jong-Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion.” – Admiral Harris, April 26, 2017.
The defense of Hawaii, from the North Korean ballistic missile threat, presents a geographical distance and physics conundrum for the United States. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, with its limited capacity of the Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) that require multiple shots for one incoming missile and have only one shot opportunity from the middle of Alaska to fly thousands of miles to get in front of a North Korean ballistic missile high up in space, around one thousand miles west of Hawaii. Further the GMD system was designed, tested and deployed to defend the massive geographical area of the North American continent from North Korean ballistic missiles at shorter intercept points then what is required for Hawaii, with multiple shot opportunities, and a secondary layer of a few interceptors in California. The United States GMD system – with interceptors costing around $80 million apiece that have tremendous divert capability and are assisted by a series of layered land and sea-based sensors from Japan to Alaska and California – was not fundamentally conceived to defend a small island in the middle of the Pacific or regional area unless it was nearby or attached to the North American continent. The United States have designed, developed and deployed a regional ballistic missile defense system on land and sea, with their own sensors and interceptors – at around $10 million apiece – that are in place today defending close to 500 million people in Japan, Korea, Guam, Europe, and throughout the Middle East from ballistic missile threats. Admiral Harris’ remarks to Congress on Hawaii (Link) validates the reality and forward thinking of developing and deploying a regional missile defense system in Hawaii for the defense of Hawaii, in addition to the adding to the limited GBIs in Alaska.
“I believe that our ballistic missile architecture is sufficient to protect Hawaii today. But it can be overwhelmed, and, you know, if — if Kim Jong-Un or someone else launched ballistic missiles, ICBMs against the United States, and then, you know — somewhere we would have to make the decision on which ones to take out or not. So that’s a difficult decision. I think that we would be better served — my personal opinion is that we would be better served with a defensive Hawaii radar, and interceptors in Hawaii. I know that that’s being discussed and I don’t want to get ahead of those discussions. But I think we ought to study it for sure. and then make that decision as a department, what the best way forward is. But Kim Jong-Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion.” – Admiral Harris, April 26, 2017.
“But I do believe that the numbers could be improved. In other words, we need more interceptors(GBIs), and then I believe that for the defensive of Hawaii, which is covered, also, by those interceptors, could stand strengthening itself. And that’s in terms of the defensive Hawaii radar and potentially interceptors.” – Admiral Harris, April 26, 2017.
Today there are current regional ballistic missile defense systems (Aegis Ashore, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense [BMD] ships, and THAAD), interceptors (SM-3 Block IB and THAAD), and sensors (TPY-2, SPY-1) deployed today by the United States and all of them, with the exception of THAAD, are deployed but not operational in Hawaii today. The United States has a new, soon to be operationalized regional missile defense interceptors with much greater range and capability– the SM-3 Block IIA – which will be tested out of Hawaii next month from its Aegis Ashore Platform, the same one that is deployed operational in Romania today. In addition, there is a Medium-Range Discrimination Radar (MRDR) being considered to be built and deployed in Hawaii by the Missile Defense Agency.
It is no longer a question of if the United States should build a regional ballistic missile defense capability for Hawaii, it is a question of when the United States will build it.