Tribune Washington Bureau:
The Pentagon needs to consider deploying new anti-ballistic missile systems and a defensive radar to Hawaii to protect against a growing threat from North Korea, the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific told Congress on Wednesday.
“Kim Jong Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion,” Adm. Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee. “I have suggested that we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that … defend (it) directly, and that we look at a defensive Hawaii radar.”
The U.S. currently has anti-missile interceptors at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and in Fort Greely, Alaska.
Harris was repeatedly questioned by lawmakers from Hawaii on the threat posed to their state.
The current defense architecture “is sufficient to protect Hawaii today, but it can be overwhelmed,” he cautioned. “Somewhere, we would have to make a decision about which missiles to take out, and that’s a hard decision.”
Harris warned that North Korea’s testing is picking up speed and becoming more aggressive; the country conducted more than 20 ballistic missile tests last year.
“North Korea vigorously pursued a strategic strike capability in 2016,” he told lawmakers on Wednesday. “Kim’s strategic capabilities are not yet an existential threat to the U.S., but if left unchecked, he will gain the capability to match his rhetoric.”
The chief of U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees all military operations in the region, testified a few hours before the entire U.S. Senate was scheduled to go to the White House for a rare classified meeting to discuss the North Korean threat.