Congressional delegation at odds with experts on defending Hawaii

July 11, 2017

Stars and Stripes Okinawa:

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Hawaii is now within reach of North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles after the rogue nation’s successful test launch on July 3, some experts maintain. So what should be done to better protect the state?

Hawaii’s congressional delegation continues to place faith in 36 ground-based interceptor missiles, mainly in Alaska but also in California, to shoot down an incoming North Korean missile. The number of ground interceptors is expected to increase to 44 by the end of the year.

None indicated support, as of yet, for an added option increasingly being discussed: the activation of the Aegis Ashore missile test site on Kauai.

The delegation also emphasized that a new medium-range radar is planned for Hawaii to better track North Korean missiles. The approximately $1 billion radar is expected to be operational in 2023.

For extra defense, AN-TPY-2 radars could be brought in, and Aegis Ashore could be activated in emergencies, experts say.

The Pentagon also could activate a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense mobile missile system, or THAAD, as it did on Guam and is doing in South Korea. But THAAD is designed for short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles and not the extreme closing speeds of ICBMs.

Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Congress in April that the existing ground-based system “can be overwhelmed” and that the defense of Hawaii “could stand strengthening” — potentially with interceptors in the state as part of a layered defense.

A salvo of several Alaska- based missiles would have to be launched at each incoming North Korean rocket.

Riki Ellison, chairman of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, says Hawaii is the most underdefended state in the nation. He questions how many of those missiles the U.S. Northern Command would allot for Hawaii if Alaska and the West Coast also were threatened.

Harris told Congress, “I’m advocating for a defense of Hawaii radar. I’m (also) advocating for a study to see if it’s worthwhile to put interceptors in Hawaii to improve Hawaii’s capability against North Korean missiles.”

Ellison advocates activating Aegis Ashore at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in times of emergency. The missile-firing site and its radar were put in place to test defensive land-based sites for Romania and Poland. Japan also is interested in Aegis Ashore for its own defense.

Under a new administration and with the North Korean threat rapidly evolving, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in May directed the start of a Ballistic Missile Defense Review to evaluate the threats posed by ballistic missiles and develop a missile defense posture.

Past Pentagon policy called for only the radar installation in Hawaii. Navy and PMRF officials, meanwhile, are concerned about maintaining uninterrupted missile testing and good community relations on Kauai.

Heightened security with an activated Aegis Ashore is seen as potentially fencing off the community from the base, which is the third-largest employer on Kauai.

Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation commented on the matter last week in emails to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser…

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