Thursday, July 13, 2017

Congressional delegation at odds with experts on defending Hawaii

by: William Cole | .
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | .
published: July 11, 2017
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.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa said the priority sequenced in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018, which was passed by the House Armed Serv­ices Committee, “is to assess the siting and functionality of (a medium-range) radar in Hawaii first. In addition, because Alaska is a known good interceptor site, the NDAA authorized more missiles for Alaska.”
Although some experts disagree with her estimation, Hanabusa said there is “no indication that North Korean missiles have the precision or range to hit Hawaii.”
“In my opinion, what is unfortunate about the North Korean missile test is that the U.S. tends to react to Kim Jong-un’s missile tests instead of focusing on China and Russia, two adversaries which actually do have missiles and the capability to attack and strike the U.S.,” she said.
Making Aegis Ashore operational on Kauai would compromise PMRF’s critical training and test mission, Hanabusa added. It would also “change the relationship between the base and Kauai. As such, I remain confident that our best next step” is to assess the siting and functionality of the new radar for Hawaii, she said.
Harris, however, told Congress that missile testing and the activation of Aegis Ashore could coexist.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said the United States “must work with our allies, as well as China and others with a stake in regional stability, to pressure North Korea to return to direct talks aimed at freezing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
Schatz also said continuous improvement is needed to the ground-based defense system in Alaska and California, “which is the most capable way to defend Hawaii, Alaska, and the continental United States against rogue missile threats from North Korea.”
The Missile Defense Agency’s planned construction of a new defense radar for Hawaii will improve the ability to detect, track, discriminate and intercept North Korean missiles and make it more difficult for Pyongyang to credibly threaten the United States, he added.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said the United States “must strengthen the defense of Hawaii” against the growing North Korean threat, and that she worked with Hana­busa to pass provisions in the NDAA “that prioritize and authorize funding for a permanent radar in Hawaii to strengthen the defense of Hawaii, as well as increase ground-based interceptors in Alaska.”
“Missile defense experts and military leaders agree that right now these steps will most effectively strengthen our missile defense for the people of Hawaii,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, meanwhile, said “stronger diplomatic and economic efforts must lead our response to North Korea’s recent actions.” She added that she “will continue to work with our military leaders to ensure that the resources necessary to protect Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. mainland are available,” including enhancing the missile defense system with advanced sensors and interceptor missiles.
Ellison, with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said emergency-activating Aegis Ashore, which costs $450 million, is the obvious choice for the additional protection of Hawaii.
Hawaii also needs an AN/TPY-2 radar, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar at sea more, and accelerated deployment of the new medium-range radar, he said.
“Hawaii, out of all our 50 states, no question by a long shot, is the most vulnerable (to North Korean attack),” Ellison said.
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