Hawaii's missile defense urged as North Korean threat persists

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, the Japan Ministry of Defense, and U.S. Navy sailors aboard USS John Paul Jones conduct a flight test Feb. 3, 2017, resulting in the first intercept of a ballistic missile target using the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA off the west coast of Hawaii.


By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: October 18, 2017

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Although the United States has been stymied in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program, a former U.S. Pacific Command deputy commander said President Donald Trump’s tough words can be matched with real action by enhancing the defense of Hawaii.

“The president cannot allow North Korea to get comfortable with the notion that they have the initiative on all fronts,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan “Fig” Leaf, who lives in Honolulu. “Improving Hawaii’s defenses complicates the (North Korean) attack calculations and puts Kim Jong Un on notice that the U.S. is not going to sit idly by under their threats, nor will it limit its actions to negotiation or military operations on the Korean Peninsula.”

A new defensive U.S. missile that could do just that is expected to be tested as early as the spring in Hawaii against a simulated North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile, a defense expert said.

Although that missile, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-3 block IIA, is being developed for international use, and the testing just happens to be in Hawaii, the Aloha State could be a direct beneficiary by also placing the missile interceptors in the state, said Riki Ellison, chairman of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

The use of the SM-3 IIA for Hawaii’s protection has been suggested by Ellison before, but North Korea’s rapidly advancing ballistic missile program has added new urgency to the discussion.

“This (use of the SM-3 IIA) would be the quickest, most efficient and most capable increase of missile defense capacity (for) the Pacific against the North Korean nuclear ballistic missile threat that the United States could do next year,” Ellison said in a release.

Ellison said limited production and deployment of the SM-3 IIA could follow the spring test.

The missile is being designed to be fired by Navy Aegis ballistic missile ships and what are known as “Aegis Ashore” land-based variants of the system in Romania and Poland. Japan also wants Aegis Ashore. Kauai has an Aegis Ashore site that’s used to test the system.

SM-3 IIA missiles have a wider body than current-use SM-3 IBs, fly much faster and have a range of 1,350 miles — more than triple that of the SM-3 IB. Ellison said the SM-3 IIA is the only interceptor that can be deployed to Hawaii and other parts of the U.S., Guam, Japan and South Korea next year to better protect against ICBMs and shorter-range ballistic missiles that are “lofted” in a high arc.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said in May that it is “committed to delivering the SM-3 Block IIA to the fleet to meet global threat requirements.”

Leaf, deputy commander of Pacific Command from 2005 to 2008 and now a security consultant with Phase Minus 1, said in an opinion piece Tuesday in Real Clear Defense and the National Interest that despite tough talk about North Korea, “there has been little substantive action on the security front from the Trump administration and the Department of Defense.”

The dilemma for Trump is finding meaningful action that will deter but not inflame North Korea, he said. Trump should request more funding for missile defense, Leaf said.

“Right now, he can direct expansion of the dual-use of the Aegis Ashore system at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai for (defensive) operations during a crisis in addition to its current test activity,” Leaf wrote. “He could further direct the deployment of a forward-based X-band radar, coupling Aegis Ashore with sufficient SM-3 interceptors, and consider deployment” of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system to Hawaii.

Speaking in Singapore on Tuesday, Adm. Harry Harris, head of the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis “have clearly stated that diplomacy is our main battery” in dealing with North Korea.

But Harris said he’ll continue to provide military options to the president.

“Many people have talked about military options being unimaginable regarding North Korea,” Harris said. “Folks, I must imagine the unimaginable. And what is unimaginable to me are North Korean nuclear-­tipped missiles delivered in Los Angeles and Honolulu and Seoul and Tokyo and Sydney and Singapore.”

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