To Counter North Korea, Admiral Says The US Should Consider Adding Ballistic Missile Interceptors In Hawaii
The top U.S. military officer in the Pacific said Wednesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today” with a ballistic missile attack and that the Pentagon is considering adding new ballistic missile interceptors and defensive radar there to counter that possibility.
Navy Adm. Harry Harris, the chief of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee there are already “sufficient” ballistic missile interceptors protecting the United States at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But he added there is a possibility that not every missile would be stopped in an attack. Hawaii, about 2,500 miles to California’s southwest, could benefit from having new equipment to protect itself, he said.
“I believe that our ballistic missile architecture is sufficient to protect Hawaii today, but it can be overwhelmed,” Harris said. “Somewhere, we would have to make a decision about which missiles to take out, and that’s a hard decision.”
The comments are a new sign of U.S. concerns about the threat Pyongyang poses, and came ahead of an unusual White House briefing Wednesday afternoon about North Korea scheduled by the Trump administration for U.S. senators. The session will include a presentation by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Harris said that the United States wants to bring the North Korean leader “to his senses, but not to his knees” about his efforts to build ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. It is unclear whether North Korea will launch a preemptive attack against the United States or its allies, but U.S. officials are reaching an “inflection point” in which North Korea can carry through on repeated threats to do so, the admiral said.
In recent days, the Navy has positioned the USS Carl Vinson strike group within a two-hour flight from North Korea for U.S. strike aircraft, Harris said. The Navy also sent the USS Michigan, an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine, to South Korea, and will have a defensive missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) operational in South Korea within days.
The admiral said that if North Korea were to launch an attack against U.S. ships off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, they would be able to defend themselves.
“The weapons that North Korea would put against the Carl Vinson strike group are easily defended by the capabilities resident in that strike group,” he said. “If it flies, it will die if it’s flying against the Carl Vinson strike group.”
Harris, who has repeatedly questioned China’s military expansion in the South China Sea, said Wednesday that China has recently been helpful in pressuring North Korea to change its development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. But he added that he is still concerned about China’s operations in the South China Sea, and that the United States should be able to criticize them while simultaneously showing gratitude for help against North Korea.
“Despite subsequent Chinese assurances that they would not militarize these bases, today they now have facilities that support long-range weapons emplacements, fighter aircraft hangers, radar towers and barracks for troops,” Harris said. “China’s militarization of South China Sea is real.”