Kauai facility will be used to track missiles, not shoot them down
A Kauai testing facility likely will monitor threats rather than guard against them
A missile testing facility on Kauai won’t be converted to defend Hawaii against North Korean threats in the short term, with the Pentagon instead looking at installing a medium-range discrimination radar to track and identify enemy missiles to better protect the state.
The outlook was among those highlighted at the annual Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Military Affairs Council partnership conference Friday at the state Capitol.
Military commanders and leaders who briefed the business community and took questions also said they are hoping for increased capability under a Trump administration to better address threats in the region.
The “Aegis Ashore” launcher at the Pacific Missile Range Facility uses a SPY-1 radar and SM-3 missiles in a land-based configuration similar to the system used on Navy Aegis ships with ballistic missile shootdown capability.
The Kauai site was installed as a test facility for Aegis Ashore installations in Romania and Poland. In the face of escalating North Korean nuclearization, some called for Kauai’s Aegis Ashore to also be on defense for potential missile threats aimed at Hawaii.
George Kailiwai, director of the resources and assessment directorate at U.S. Pacific Command, said following a breakout group on PMRF that it was premature to consider operationalizing Aegis Ashore.
Kailiwai said the command has no plans to make the facility defensive in nature.
While such a step is not being taken off the table, “we ought not presume that the Aegis Ashore facility is the right solution at this point in time,” he said.
The focus right now “is on the sensor itself” — a radar that could better track missiles possibly headed for Hawaii, he said. Such a radar would be linked to groundbased interceptor missiles in California and Alaska.
The recently signed National Defense Authorization Act for 2017 requires the Pentagon to evaluate the ballistic missile threat to Hawaii and the efficacy of making the Kauai Aegis Ashore site operational as well as deploying the preferred alternative of fielding the medium-range ballistic missile radar.
Where such a radar would be located hasn’t been determined, Kailiwai said.
Congress also is prohibiting over fiscal 2017 any reduction in manning or test capabilities with the Aegis Ashore facility beyond what existed on Jan. 1, 2015. The provision was put in place to prevent the site from going into a “cold” or “standby” status if missile defense testing diminished.
Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., head of U.S. Pacific Command, said early last year that consideration should be given to enabling Kauai’s Aegis Ashore to protect against North Korean threats.
The late U.S. Rep. Mark Takai also advocated using Aegis Ashore for defense, as did Riki Ellison, chairman of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, which seeks a strong U.S. missile defense.
Ellison last year said Hawaii lagged in ballistic missile defense while the United States poured billions into the defense of Alaska and the mainland, Guam, Japan and South Korea.
He said Aegis Ashore should be part of a layered defense that is needed to provide more than one shot at an incoming missile with mainland-based interceptor missiles. An operational Aegis Ashore could provide at least two more shot opportunities in the terminal phase of a North Korean ballistic missile, he said.
The giant Sea-Based X-Band Radar, usually berthed at Ford Island, is seen as having limitations in that it has to be moved out to sea for use and has a narrow field of view that diminishes capability.
During an opening session of the partnership conference, a question put to military commanders was what was at the top of their needs list under a Trump administration.
Craig Whelden, executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said, “I think near the top of our list
The Marine Corps dropped from 202,000 Marines to 182,000 and was expected to rise up to 185,000, he said. Spreading Marines across the Pacific has resulted in the need for more wrench turners and sustainers, he said, adding that shortage needs to be fixed before more battalions are added.
Whelden also gave an update on the status of the Corps in the Pacific, and said the relocation of about 2,700 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Hawaii is about 10 years away.
Army Lt. Gen. Tony Crutchfield, deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, spoke to the Army’s needs and said budget limitations led to the decision to have between 450,000 and 465,000 soldiers.
“That’s too low,” Crutchfield said, adding that Army leadership now believes 485,000 is about the right number.
Maj. Gen. Mark Dillon, vice commander of Pacific Air Forces, said in the ever-changing Pacific environment, air superiority “remains job No. 1” and that continued development of fifth-generation aircraft — meaning the pinnacle of technology, often including stealth — “is vitally important.”
“For me it’s readiness, maintenance and training,” said Rear Adm. Vic Mercado, director of maritime operations for U.S. Pacific Fleet, which has about 200 ships and 1,100 aircraft.
Mercado said it’s “critical” that the Navy make time and money available for maintenance.
“We are running our ships and they are doing great work,” he said. “We need to bring them back (periodically). We need to do the maintenance.”
Rear Adm. Vincent Atkins, head of the 14th Coast Guard District, pointed out that the U.S. Coast Guard is the 11th-largest navy in the world.
“And yet our ships, most of them, we built in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said, adding that it’s time to replace many of them and perhaps increase Coast Guard presence in the Asia-Pacific.
Atkins noted the significant presence of another nation’s coast guard in the South China Sea: that of China.
“So how does the United States Coast Guard get out there and represent us and our interests?” he asked.
Stephen Sasaki, facilities superintendent at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, commented from the audience rather than asking a question.
The shipyard delivered the submarine USS Bremerton early after a maintenance period — with a large part of the workforce having less than five years’ experience on the job, he said.
George Kailiwai, director of the resources and assessment directorate at U.S. Pacific Command, said Friday at the annual Chamber of Commerce Hawaii Military Affairs Council partnership conference that it was premature to consider operationalizing the Aegis Ashore launcher as another way to ward off potential missile threats aimed at Hawaii in light of North Korea’s renewed interest in nuclearization. Shown is an aerial view of Aegis Ashore at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.