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US House Panel Votes to Protect Kauai Missile Tests

The Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Pacific Command, and Navy sailors conducted a flight test involving the launch of a medium-range ballistic missile target from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, May 17, 2016. (Missile Defense Agency/Leah Garton)
The Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Pacific Command, and Navy sailors conducted a flight test involving the launch of a medium-range ballistic missile target from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, May 17, 2016. (Missile Defense Agency/Leah Garton)

The House Armed Services Committee approved a defense amendment Wednesday that would safeguard continued missile testing on Kauai and assess the effectiveness of a new medium-range radar before taking additional steps to protect Hawaii from North Korean threats such as activating the Aegis Ashore facility.

A difference of opinion has emerged between advocates of activating Kauai's Aegis Ashore missile testing facility for the defense of Hawaii, and those who think it would interfere with missile testing functions at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa introduced an amendment to the House's $696.5 billion 2018 National Defense Authorization Act saying the secretary of defense "shall protect the test and training operations of the Pacific Missile Range Facility and assess the siting and functionality of a discrimination radar for homeland defense throughout the Hawaiian Islands before assessing the feasibility of improving the missile defense of Hawaii by using existing missile defense assets."

Hawaii's two House members, Hanabusa and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, both of whom serve on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a joint statement on the missile defense amendment's "sequenced approach."

"It is unanimous among our military leaders that the operations at PMRF are critical and that Hawaii's major assets are protected," Hanabusa and Gabbard said in an email.

The amendment was the result of consultation with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Pacific Command, and will maintain ongoing testing and training operations at PMRF while also pursuing a permanent radar system to strengthen the missile defense of Hawaii, the Democratic legislators said.

"This comprehensive solution will ensure mission-critical work continues within the state as we work towards long- and short-term missile defense solutions," Hanabusa and Gabbard said.

The amendment also calls for the Missile Defense Agency to test and evaluate within 270 days the capability of the new SM-3 Block IIA missile to defeat a simple intercontinental ballistic missile threat.

The missile has substantial ramifications for the defense of Hawaii. The Aegis Ashore test facility on Kauai -- put in place to test land-based missile defense facilities for Romania and Poland -- is expected to test-fire an SM-3 IIA by the end of the year.

The Missile Defense Agency recently confirmed that the SM-3 IIA, which hasn't yet been fielded, could be used for the protection of Hawaii.

The version of the National Defense Authorization Act originally put forth by House Armed Services Chairman U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, said the "ballistic missile defense of Hawaii could benefit from a near-term improvement by adding a layer of defense" with the activation of Aegis Ashore and using AN/TPY-2 radars.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 required the Missile Defense Agency to field a radar or equivalent sensor for the added protection of Hawaii.

But Pentagon plans to have the medium-range radar in Hawaii fully operational after 2023 "would leave the defense of Hawaii dependent only on (Alaska defensive missiles and the floating Sea-Based X-Band 'golf ball' radar) until that time, while the threat to the United States, including Hawaii, from North Korean ballistic missiles continues to grow," Thornberry's report states.

That current ballistic missile protection for Hawaii from ground-based interceptors in Alaska and the SBX radar provides "limited" defense, the "chairman's mark" states.

The House committee approved the $696.5 billion bill, while the Senate Armed Services Committee passed its own $700 billion version of the defense bill.

This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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