- - Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hidden in the Hawaiian Island experience of aloha, sandy beaches and volcanic mountains is the linchpin of America’s Western defense. Prior to World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii was seen as the geographical sweet spot of the Pacific, key to protecting shipping lanes and much of the world’s economy. After the fateful sneak attack on Dec. 7, 1941 it became even clearer; Hawaii was a paramount defense location for America’s security our enemies were intent on taking out.

Today this vibrant vacation destination for many travelers is home to more than 10 military facilities, including United States Pacific Command (USPACOM). Roughly translated in Hawaiian these facilities comprise the “mua liana o ka pale” or “first line of defense” for America’s western flank. Yet they remain vulnerable to some of the most serious threats.

From what used to be a remote military hospital, USPACOM watches over half the world’s surface and 36 culturally, economically and geopolitically diverse nations. These countries comprise more than 50 percent of the world’s population, two of the three biggest economies, 9 of the 10 largest ports and the world’s busiest sea lanes. This area is also a heavily militarized region underscored by recent North Korean missile tests. Protecting this defense focal point from all threats must be a priority.

With Pacific Command’s assets of hundreds of ships, more than a thousand aircraft, and nearly 380,000 military and civilian personnel the defense of this vacation spot should not be an issue. Yet, with all of these resources Hawaii still remains vulnerable to attack from a backward third world country, North Korea.

Hidden from Western eyes and ears a problem festers and no country seems willing to treat the inflamed boil. The unpredictable Kim Jong-un continues to pursue a lethal combination of nuclear capabilities and long-range missiles. According to The New York Times, President Obama warned President Trump as he left office that North Korea would be “the most urgent problem” he would face. Certainly, the problem isn’t even close to going away; more likely, it will only become more inflamed.

North Korea’s ambitions to attack the U.S. are no secret. Reports from Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency indicate that North Korea’s launch of four missiles on a recent Monday (March 6, 2017) was a training exercise for a strike on U.S. bases in Japan. The intercontinental strike capabilities pursued by Kim Jong-un makes Hawaii’s assets and personnel an obvious target.

Near term threats, such as the North Korea’s intercontinental ambitions, won’t be ignored but how will they be countermanded? Based on my 14 years of experience as a member of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee (HAC-D), I know time is of the essence in protecting Hawaii from Pyongyang. Congress and the new administration need to ensure Hawaii has sophisticated radar and missile capability at the ready.

In my time on HAC-D, I also learned the Pentagon likes to plan, budget, manage and test new and shiny systems — no matter how imminent the threat. The problem with new and shiny is always cost and schedule and the romance of new and shiny defense systems too often overlooks the rougher real time solutions.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is considering development of the Homeland Discrimination Radar — Hawaii (HDR-HI) — in response to the North Korean threat. While radar detection is critical, when and how a HDR-HI system would be operational isn’t obvious and neither is the cost and rarely does system development come in on time or on budget. The good news for Hawaii and for taxpayers is there are alternative systems to protect our assets in Hawaii that are cost effective, proven and quickly available.

When it comes to portable radar, discrimination and ballistic missile capability, the Pentagon already has the Army Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance (AN/TPY-2) and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system that’s being used in Turkey, Guam and South Korea. These capabilities could be easily deployed to Hawaii and made operational for a fraction of developing a new radar.

The Pentagon also has the Pacific Missile Range Facility, which is a test facility in Kauai that houses an Aegis Ashore system equipped with Stand Missile 3’s (SM-3). The U.S. has operational Aegis Ashore’s in Poland and soon Romania. The test facility in Hawaii could go from experimental to operational quickly and cost-effectively.

Employing these proven defense systems we already have would be hoomalu ana, or “protection” in Hawaiian. Providing such protection from North Korean threats sooner and at significantly lower costs than developing an entirely new radar and missile defense system simply makes sense. Such systems would offer affordable, near term insurance for America from an unwanted North Korean intercontinental missile reducing the threat Kim Jong-un wants of destination Hawaii, departure North Korea.

• Todd Tiahrt, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas, is a consultant for aerospace, aviation and energy companies.

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