Time to protect Hawaii from the ‘clear and present’ North Korean danger
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The time to act to prevent what Defense Secretary James Mattis calls a ‘clear and present danger’ in North Korea is now.

On Tuesday the U.S. reportedly fired two supersonic bombers over the peninsula a day after the American college student detained in the rogue nation for more than a year died.


At the same time, North Korea’s continued missile tests pose a serious threat to the worldwide community.

In an unprecedented move earlier this year, President Trump hosted the entire U.S. Senate at the White House for a briefing on North Korea’s missile program. It’s clear the administration understands the severity of the threat, but that’s only the half of it.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the United States must deploy missile defense systems to counter the threat, and we must do so fast.

America is already in North Korea’s crosshairs. Experts have concluded that North Korea could have an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) ready to launch within a year, and given the nuclear test they conducted in January 2017, these weapons may be nuclear tipped and even deadlier to American citizens.

The Hermit Kingdom’s medium-range missile, the Musudan, can travel 2,400 miles already putting one of America's principal Pacific defense assets — Hawaii — at risk. The Aloha state’s eleven military bases possess countless strategic assets, and constitute America’s first line of defense in the Pacific, yet they remain vulnerable to missile threats from North Korea and must be protected.

A former Obama Administration advisor recently stated that dealing with such threats is the "defining security challenge" for President Trump "in Asia, if not globally." The U.S. defense arsenal currently contains numerous assets to defend against North Korean aggression, but some in Washington want to ignore years of readily available and cost-effective missile defense technology in favor of developing new technology known as the Homeland Discrimination Radar-Hawaii (HDR-HI), a costly system that is years away from being fielded. While the U.S. should use all means, both regional and homeland missile defense systems, at its disposal to counter North Korean aggression, we must do so smartly and not waste precious tax dollars in the process.

So why start at square one?

Design, engineering, development, testing and procurement of a completely new system like HDR-HI could take over a decade. This extended timetable clearly would not match the imminent North Korean threat. Furthermore, the interceptor that would be paired with the radar, Ground-Based Midcourse defense (GMD), is one of the most costly missiles in our arsenal at more than $800 million. While GMD serves an important role in our nation’s missile defenses and recently fielded a successful test, at a price tag for a single interceptor of over $100 million, we should explore other interceptor options if they are better suited to defend Hawaii.   

Conversely, years of development and millions of taxpayer dollars have already gone into programs such as Aegis Ashore and the SM-3. These systems have the ability to protect Hawaii at a fraction of the cost and can be deployed on a much shorter timetable than HDR-HI. The Aegis Ashore test facility in Hawaii could be brought online for $41 million, for example, and the SM-3 interceptors that pair with Aegis are estimated to cost a relatively modest few million dollars each.  

Public officials have an obligation to spend adequately on homeland defense, but are equally obligated to spend wisely. Congress should heed this advice as it considers funding requests this year to defend Hawaii. Alternatives such as proven technologies that can be deployed without delay should be considered. Any exploratory spending for HDR-HI should be scrutinized and come with strict oversight provisions. At risk is not only national security, but the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers

Text in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act expresses the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) continued concern about the pace of deploying ballistic missile defense systems because of increasing international threats. The Committee takes this threat so seriously that its Chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), recently introduced legislation to substantially boost spending on munitions, missile defense, including more THAAD interceptors, and joint exercises with U.S. Pacific allies. 

Existing missile defense systems are well suited to meet Hawaii’s near-term threats and area defense, both from a cost and security standpoint. 

As a former member of the House Appropriations Committee, I always applied an important principle when reviewing and determining national security budgetary requests: that these expenditures should be closely monitored with consistent oversight and deployed only if they're effective and affordable. The HDR-HI does not meet these requirements and therefore Congress should not spend money on this new, unproven missile defense technology.

George Nethercutt is the former Republican Congressman from the 5th District of Washington and a former member of the National Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.