5 March 2020
Defense secretary notes site delays in stalled $1.9B Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii
By William Cole
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono pressed Defense Secretary Mark Esper Wednesday on the future of a powerful $1.9 billion radar planned for the defense of Hawaii, with Esper saying the radar hasn’t been ruled out, but “for many years now we’ve had a problem with state and local authorities giving us permission to get onto that site.”
“If I recall the issue properly, … developing of the system is one thing, but if I develop a system and can’t put it somewhere, it has no effect. It’s wasted money,” Esper said at the Department of Defense budget hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Defense Department zeroed out funding in its fiscal 2021 budget request for the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii — in spite of three years of congressional appropriations, Hirono noted.
Esper said the Defense Department is putting more money into missile defense and that “if our intelligence is correct” North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles pose a threat to the United States, Hawaii included.
Hirono asked if the decision to zero out funding in 2021 for the radar was a decision to not build the radar at all.
“Not necessarily,” Esper said. But he added that the “latest report we had at the time (we were) building the budget is we probably wouldn’t see any resolution (in Hawaii) for another year or two or three.”
The Hawaii Democrat also asked if the Defense Department would request funding for the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii in the fiscal 2022 budget. She called the radar a “critical program that would help protect Hawaii” from North Korean threats.
“I think when we see a light at the end of the tunnel with regard to getting clearance to build, yes ma’am,” Esper said.
Hirono said about $188 million was in the 2020 budget for the radar. “This is being expended even as we speak,” Hirono said, adding that as far as she knows, Lockheed Martin already is building the radar.
But Esper wouldn’t commit to not repurposing the money set aside in 2020.
“Again, what we’re trying to do is in an era of tight budgets, make sure we don’t put money against something that has no possibility of being effected in the near term,” he said. Funding for a separate $1.6 billion Pacific radar also was zeroed out.
The Hawaii radar originally was scheduled for operation in 2023. But the still- ambiguous site delays have added years to that expected implementation, according to the Missile Defense Agency.
A fast-changing warfare environment that includes the emergence of hypersonic weapons that fly at least Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound, or 3,800 mph, and which can maneuver around radars — has the Pentagon rethinking its sensor architecture and considering space-based methods to cover radar gaps that exist on the ground.
Study is ongoing into a space sensor layer that could protect against a wider range of missile threats.
Hawaii’s congressional delegation and U.S. Indo- Pacific Command previously advocated for the Hawaii radar first followed by examination of possible interceptor missiles for the state.
Delegation members Sens. Hirono and Brian Schatz and Reps. Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard recently were asked by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about what appeared to be the Hawaii radar’s cancellation.
In a joint statement, the delegation said Esper “should be following the advice of the Missile Defense Agency experts who are in the best position to develop the right strategy to keep Hawaii safe. On that, MDA has been clear and consistent: this medium-range discrimination radar is necessary to protect Hawaii from missile threats.
“We will work in the authorizing and appropriating committees to keep this project funded so that MDA can continue to apply a technically sound strategy for protecting all of us.”
The Missile Defense Agency was studying sites at Kaena Point and the Army’s Kahuku Training Area for the Hawaii radar, which would have an 80- to 90-foot single face and the ability to look out in depth and volume for ballistic missiles.
But construction site access challenges more recently became apparent. Some Native Hawaiian opposition arose at the Kaena Point site and community concerns emerged near Kahuku.
The agency in recent months added the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai as a potentially easier possible radar site.
Forty-four big ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska and California protect Hawaii and the rest of the United States from a North Korean attack.
A new interceptor missile, the SM-3 Block IIA, with longer reach and greater speed, is expected to be tested against an ICBM target for the first time in May off Kauai.
With a successful test, a limited homeland defense system utilizing the ship- and shore-based SM-3 IIA missiles would be available for fielding to the Navy by fiscal 2021, the agency said.
Kauai, which has
fired an SM-3
IIA before, “can
activated in the
event of a
use,” the agency