Isle mil­i­tary brass weigh N. Korean threats

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam Cole wcole@starad­ver­tiser.com

North Korea, China and ISIS were cen­ter stage — with some dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on cop­ing with Kim Jong Un — at the an­nual Cham­ber of Com­merce Hawaii mil­i­tary part­ner­ship con­fer­ence Fri­day at the state Capi­tol.

Top com­man­ders in Hawaii met with the busi­ness com­mu­nity to pro­vide an up­date on plans. This year, with the state con­firmed to be in range of newly de­vel­oped North Korean bal­lis­tic mis­siles, a di­ver­sity of views on the threat level and how to deal with it emerged in one panel dis­cus­sion on the topic.

“There is a real threat (to Hawaii),” said re­tired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan “Fig” Leaf, a for­mer U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand deputy com­man­der.

Leaf, one of the pan­elists, noted Hawaii’s prox­im­ity to North Korea.

“We’re closer. Eas­ier,” Leaf said, adding that the North’s nu­clear mis­siles “are not aimed at South Korea, not at Japan.”

“The U.S. is the des­ig­nated re­cip­i­ent — and that’s

be­cause we are pub­lic enemy No. 1 to North Korea,” he said.

Dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion, state Rep. Gene Ward asked why the Pa­cific Mis­sile Range Fa­cil­ity on Kauai, which has an Aegis Ashore mis­sile fir­ing test site, isn’t be­ing weaponized for Hawaii’s de­fense.

“The ques­tion that you raise with re­gards to the de­fense of Hawaii — we are tak­ing steps to­ward that,” said Ge­orge Kaili­wai, di­rec­tor of the re­quire­ments and re­sources direc­torate at Pa­cific Com­mand, another pan­elist.

A “home­land de­fense radar” for Hawaii “is a high pri­or­ity within the com­mand,” Kaili­wai said. Ini­tial op­er­at­ing ca­pa­bil­ity is ex­pected in 2023. The pos­si­bil­ity of adding in­ter­cep­tor mis­siles in Hawaii is “still un­der study,” he said af­ter the ses­sion.

“We’re look­ing at the sen­sor first and then the in­ter­cep­tors sec­ond,” Kaili­wai said.

Sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple at­tended the cham­ber’s Mil­i­tary Af­fairs Coun­cil’s part­ner­ship con­fer­ence, which started at the state Capi­tol and ended with a lun­cheon at Washington Place and key­note speech by Adm. Harry Har­ris, head of the Pa­cific Com­mand.

Har­ris said U.S. op­por­tu­ni­ties in the re­gion are abun­dant, “but the path is bur­dened by sev­eral con­sid­er­able chal­lenges to in­clude China, ISIS and, of course, North Korea.”

Some see ac­tions by an in­creas­ingly as­sertive China in the East and South China

Sea “as sim­ply op­por­tunis­tic,” he said, adding, “I do not. I view them as co­or­di­nated, me­thod­i­cal and strate­gic.”

Maj. Gen. Russ Mack, deputy com­man­der of Pa­cific

Air Forces, had ear­lier said China “is a strate­gic com­peti­tor mov­ing quickly to shift the bal­ance of power away from the United States.”

Har­ris also said that “ISIS is here in the Indo-Pa­cific and a clear threat that must be de­feated.” He noted fight­ing in the south­ern Philip­pine city of Marawi last year in which gov­ern­ment forces bat­tled hun­dreds of ISIS-aligned fighters.

Marawi “serves as a wake-up call and ral­ly­ing cry” for con­cern over rad­i­cals pushed out of Iraq and Syria who are spread­ing their ide­ol­ogy in the Pa­cific, Har­ris said.

North Korea, mean­while, is the “most im­me­di­ate chal­lenge,” Har­ris said, with its leader, Kim, fir­ing more mis­siles in six years than his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther com­bined.

Air raid sirens blared across Hawaii on Dec. 1 in a new monthly test in re­sponse to the emerg­ing North Korean nu­clear threat.

“While the pos­si­bil­ity of a nu­clear strike is slim, we now live in a world where we must be pre­pared for ev­ery con­tin­gency,” Har­ris said.

At the ear­lier panel dis­cus­sion, some main­tained that hur­ri­canes and China are greater threats than North Korea.

Japan is buy­ing two Aegis Ashore mis­sile de­fense sys­tems to pro­tect against North Korean bal­lis­tic mis­siles and Chi­nese cruise mis­siles, and the coun­try’s de­fense min­is­ter, It­sunori On­odera, vis­ited the Kauai Aegis Ashore fa­cil­ity Wed­nes­day.

The U.S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency pre­vi­ously said a new de­fen­sive mis­sile un­der de­vel­op­ment with Japan, the SM-3 Block IIA, could add a sec­ond layer of mis­sile de­fense for Hawaii be­yond ground-based in­ter­cep­tors in Alaska and Cal­i­for­nia.

The SM-3 IIA hasn’t yet been tested against in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal-range tar­gets, but test-fir­ings are planned this fis­cal year from Kauai’s Aegis Ashore and from the Pearl Har­bor de­stroyer USS John Paul Jones against mis­siles of in­ter­me­di­ate range or less.

CINDY ELLEN RUS­SELL / CRUSSELL@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Adm. Harry Har­ris, head of U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand, was the key­note speaker at a lun­cheon Fri­day at Washington Place. He is pic­tured with David Carey, chair­man of Cham­ber of Com­merce Hawaii’s Mil­i­tary Af­fairs Coun­cil.

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