Bolstering Hawaiian defense key as North Korea threat grows
by Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS.), The Hill, August 9, 2017
The waters around Kodiak, Alaska host some of the world's finest fishing. The water is cold, the wind bites and so do the fish. Yes, the fishing is great but it was hard to catch the recent test launch of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile.
Even the troops of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade didn't know when the launch would occur. The Ft. Bliss, Texas-based soldiers were located on shore, about 28 nautical miles south of Kodiak harbor at the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska where Sunday's successful missile intercept test was conducted as if they were in an actual combat scenario.
This pre-scheduled missile test followed North Korea's second launch of its Hwasong-14 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). Missile experts calculate this Hwasong-14 flew 2,300 miles into space, about 600 miles higher, lasting 45 minutes, 5 minutes longer, than the July 4th launch.
This confirmed a rocket program advancing faster than experts anticipated, a program North Korea's unpredictable leader Kim Jong Un calls "a precious asset" that cannot be reversed or replaced, according to Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency. The government’s broadcast line was that the latest missile launch was to display the Hwasong-14's maximum range with a "large-sized heavy nuclear warhead," something that America’s Pacific states should regard as a "grave warning."
Threats like this cannot be ignored by responsible politicians. Lack of attention does nothing to lessen or resolve threats. It only fuels the unnatural desire for attention from the world’s most depraved dictators and leaves the general populace dangling in vulnerable locations like Hawaii.
Many wonder why we just don't reel in Kim Jong Un like a King Salmon. Not so easy when you consider Friday's launch was within 10 miles of the Chinese border, the July 4th launch within 5 miles of Russia, and the next launch may be close to South Korea. Striking at a launch point could bleed over into a full-scale confrontation with another super power or a significant ally.
North Korea wants to be internationally recognized as a nuclear state, which became apparent to those who participated in the six-way talks in 2003, including the US, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea. The six-way talks attempted to set the hook in Kim Jong Un's predecessor, his father, to pull him away from nuclear ambition. But it's not his father’s country today, and the new fish, Kim Jong Un, is not eager to take the bait.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation is unfortunately living in denial, hoping they’ll hook the big fish. They have expressed a belief that diplomatic and economic pressure will contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and that current missile defenses are adequate to counter the "Hermit Kingdom’s" arsenal. While diplomacy may have a role, it has not worked so far, despite multiple efforts, and steps must be taken now to defend against North Korean aggression.
Where this leaves the United States' most probable and vulnerable target, with its 11 military bases, including U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), and the general populace, is dangling on a line. North Korea has now proven their capability of reaching this critical defense enclave with a nuclear package. Furthermore, an attack on Hawaii is an attack on all Americans and could spell the beginning of the next world war.
Experts, such as Admiral Harry Harris, head of PACOM, have argued that Hawaii’s existing ground based missile defenses can be overwhelmed, and additional interceptors are necessary to bolster Hawaii’s defenses. Yet the missile defense upgrade the Hawaii congressional delegation does support, the Homeland Discrimination Radar Hawaii (HDR-HI), is not expected to be operational until 2023.
Thankfully, there are several options that are immediately available to counter North Korean aggression; options like Terminal High Altitude Aerial Defense (THAAD) with its powerful AN/TPY-2 radar. While it’s serving as South Korea’s first line of defense against North Korea, it’s a unique missile defense system with unmatched precision and mobility that could also be rapidly deployed in Hawaii to meet the imminent North Korean threat.
There is also the option to operationalize the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) and make the current Aegis Ashore test site permanent. Some in the Hawaiian delegation have asserted that PMRF cannot be both an operational and test facility, but experts — former senior PACOM officials — have debunked that myth.
With either option or a combination thereof, PACOM, the U.S. and all that stand for democracy in the world would be protected. Hawaii's local government is already considering refurbishing the Cold War-era fallout shelters to protect citizens and tourists from a nuclear North Korea. Why wouldn't Congress support near-term options to protect the Pacific? Again, this is something that can't be ignored by responsible politicians.
Reeling in Kim Jong Un seems unlikely, but the protection of vulnerable Hawaii is easily caught.
Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) served on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.