Adm. Harry Harris, a top U.S. Commander in the Pacific, said on Wednesday that Hawaii is in need of increased missile defense systems in order to combat possible North Korean rocket threats.
Harris stated in front of the House Armed Services Committee that although sufficient for now, the Hawaiian defense system “could be improved.” North Korea is “clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today.”
The admiral’s suggestion, “we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii that defend Hawaii directly,” adding that defensive radars would also be necessary.
Amid the mixed congressional committee’s responses to North Korea’s potential threat, Harris went on to state, “I don’t share your confidence that North Korea is not going to attack either South Korea, or Japan, or the United States … once they have the capability.”
The news came hours before the Trump administration held a private Senate briefing to discuss North Korea and a mere four days after a ballistic missile test by the Hermit Kingdom.
As the threat mounts, Hawaiian officials are scrambling to rebuild and supply Cold-War Era bunkers unused since the 1980s. The Hawaii House Public Safety Committee has enlisted the state’s defense agency to rebuild the bunkers, sighting that “they haven’t been updated since 1985” and that “many of the buildings that are on the fallout shelter list don’t exist anymore.”
Dean Cheng, senior research fellow with the Asian Studies Center at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that North Korean missile systems are capable of striking either Hawaii and Alaska. Cheng also noted that Hawaii is an attractive target. The 11 military bases, Pearl Harbor, and the headquarters for the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) all are strategically placed on the island.
The Trump administration’s recent talks with China about possible sanctions against North Korea offer a hope for a peaceful resolve. The North Korean economy is primarily based on interactions with the Chinese government and would cripple if certain sanctions were introduced.
“I’m reasonably optimistic now that China is having an influence and they’re working in the right direction with regards to North Korea thanks to the efforts by our president and theirs,” Harris said.