Ballistic missile launches by North Korea and Iran are among the first tests being faced by the new Trump Administration – literally, trial by fire. The latest North Korean launches occurred on March 6th, when Pyongyang fired four missiles towards Japan. The Administration's response will be key to defining how the outside world — both friend and foe — comes to view "Trump's America".
It is the duty of any government to protect the homeland, and the U.S. is no exception. Hawaii, located as it is in the Pacific, could become a target of North Korean nuclear aggression, as Adm. William E. Gortney, Commander of the U.S. Northern Command, has warned.
North Korea and Iran are both striving to build ballistic missiles. North Korean ones would be capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii, and eventually, their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that could target the continental U.S. Pyongyang already has a number of land- and submarine-based liquid fuel and solid fuel ballistic missiles. These include the Taepodong-2, which has a range of at least 5,500 km, and so is capable of hitting U.S. territory.
In 2006, North Korea attempted a launch of the Taepodong-2 that failed, but in 2012, its "civilian" version put a satellite into orbit. Then on February 7, 2016 a space-launched version of Taepodong-2, the Unha-3, successfully placed the Kwamongsong-3 satellite into orbit, suggesting that the system is now in working order.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington, a solid-fuel intermediate missile launch by Pyongyang disrupted his visit. This was followed by the March 6, 2017 launch, prompting a statement from President Trump that the U.S. stands staunchly with our Japanese ally.
Clearly, it is not only America's allies that require protection. Today, the world's only communist hereditary monarchy can also hit Alaska, Hawaii and the continental U.S. with submarine launched ballistic missiles. The North Korean missile threat needs to be countered. Hawaii, with its 11 military bases and its symbolic role in U.S. history as scene of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, is a plum target for the increasingly bellicose Kim regime.
To counter this growing threat, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is pursuing the development of a new and costly Homeland Discrimination Radar Hawaii (HDR-HI) system. However, the technology for the HDR-HI is untested, and the Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) ICBM interceptors that this new radar would use and are currently deployed in Alaska and California are expensive – with a price tag of up to $100 million per interceptor missile.
Developing and deploying the HDR-HI system could take up to 10 years – with no guarantee of success.
Earlier, the MDA attempted to develop a 9-12 satellite constellation called the Precision Tracking System – only to cancel it without a single satellite launch. The cost to the U.S. taxpayer came to $230 million. The agency has also spent over $1 billion on space-based sensors to determine missile launches and intercept warheads in flight – yet no working system has been deployed.
Instead of the HDR-HI, a combination of working, proven, and relatively inexpensive technologies are readily available to defend Hawaii – today. This multi-layer system should include the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system, the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2) one of the Pentagon's most capable radars, and Aegis Ashore equipped with SM-3 interceptor missiles.
Aegis Ashore is already deployed in Romania against a potential Iranian and Russian threat, and will be deployed in Poland, despite Moscow's misgivings. In addition, the U.S. just shipped THAAD to South Korea to defend against the North – despite loud Chinese protestations.
To deter any hostile attempts on Hawaii, the U.S. Government needs to convert the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands from a testing ground into a missile defense base for the relatively small investment of $41 million — as Adm. Harry B. Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, has suggested.
The Trump Administration is increasing the military budget by $54 billion. To make Hawaii safe, Congress needs to allocate funding for an Aegis Ashore system with additional SM-3 interceptors (each costing several millions), and a truck-mounted THAAD system with 39 interceptors and the AN/TPY-2 radar, which can be procured for close to $1.6 billion.
Deployment in this configuration would establish a multi-tiered missile defense of Hawaii, with not one, but three opportunities to shoot down any incoming North Korean warhead.
The people of Hawaii, represented by their Congressional delegation, including the late Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) need a quick, reliable and cost-effective missile defense for their home. It is up to the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon to make it happen.
The time to do so is now.
-Ariel Cohen, PhD, is Director, Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics at the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and a Senior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council.