U.S. bolsters Hawaii's missile defense

Published 19 June 2009

North Korea is expected to fire a missile toward Hawaii around 4 July; the Pentagon places additional interceptors, and radar is prepared

The U.S. military is positioning more missile defenses around Hawai’i as a precaution against a possible North Korean launch across the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday. “We do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile … in the direction of Hawai’i,” Gates said.

The Honolulu Advertiser reports that ground-based long-range missile interceptors at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California would provide primary protection for Hawai’i, with the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system offering additional missile intercept capability from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kaua’i.

The THAAD system, designed to destroy short- to medium-range ballistic missiles minutes before they strike their target, has not been tested on long-range rockets. The mobile launcher recently was returned to Kaua’i from Vandenberg, where it underwent additional testing, according to U.S. Pacific Command spokeswoman Maj. Tracey Lewis.

In previous tests at the Kaua’i facility, it went a perfect 5 for 5 in knocking out incoming missiles. Lewis said one more test is scheduled before the end of September.

Gates also ordered use of the sea-based X-Brand Radar from Pearl Harbor, a move that was not taken when Pyongyang conducted its last missile test in April. The $900 million SBX system features a 280-foot-high white dome that encases powerful radar meant to keep an eye out for rogue missiles flying toward the United States. The dome, which resembles a giant golf ball, sits atop a self-propelled oil platform. The SBX was spotted heading out to sea on Wednesday.

Together, the systems theoretically could detect and shoot down a North Korean missile if it came to that.

In addition, 16 of the Navy’s 18 Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense-equipped ships are assigned to the Pacific Fleet and could be deployed off the Korean Peninsula to shoot down errant rockets. “The ground-based interceptors are clearly in a position to take action,” Gates said. “So without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say, I think we are in a good position, should it become necessary to protect American territory.”

A Japanese newspaper reported yesterday that North Korea might fire its most advanced ballistic missile — the Taepodong-2 — toward Hawai’i sometime around 4 July. It is expected to be launched from the country’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, the Yomiuri Shimbum said, citing analysis by Japan’s Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.

Most experts doubt a North Korean missile could reach