We should learn critically important lessons from Saturday’s false alarm warning, pushed to mobile phones at 8:07 a.m. Hawaii time. Next time it could be for real. And not just for Hawaii.
North Korea has already successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear weapons that they could carry to attack not only Hawaii, but U.S. Territory Guam and the U.S. mainland.
Beyond repairing whatever were the procedural failures that led to the “false alarm”— and the 38 minute delay before getting that fact to over a million unprepared Hawaiians who were scrambling for their safety, we should better prepare for the real thing were it to happen.
In particular, we have the means to defeat such an attack with our Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems, if they and their crews are prepared to do so.
I discussed these capabilities last September in a National Review article, “Yes, the Navy can shoot down North Korean ICBMs”
If the Navy crews are trained, ready and authorized to engage on a real warning that North Korean ICBMs have been launched, our Aegis BMD ships near North Korea can shoot the attacking ICBMs down on their way up and 20-minutes later can destroy them from Aegis BMD ships near Hawaii.
For years the Aegis BMD systems on our cruisers and destroyers have been tested off the shores of the Hawaiian Islands — with primary test operations in Kauai. There is no reason they cannot be ready to intercept attacking North Korean missiles during their 20-minute flight time required to reach Hawaii.
Moreover, the Aegis Ashore test operations on Kauai should have that as a standing mission. Tests have been conducted for years to assure the viability of our Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland — and our Japanese allies recently announced serious interest in buying two Aegis Ashore sites to defend their homeland.
That objective should certainly be a mission for the American people — especially in Hawaii. And while we are at it, we should also deploy Aegis Ashore sites on military bases around the Gulf of Mexico where we are vulnerable to ballistic missile launches from vessels.
Even after Sunday morning’s events, some have perpetuated the idea that we have months or even years to prepare for this threat because North Korea still has to demonstrate its nuclear warhead can survive the hot effects of reentering the earth’s atmosphere with sufficient accuracy to hit a city, e.g., Honolulu.
But we should also remember that North Korea has as a “strategic goal” the ability to conduct an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack and that could be carried out without reentering the earth atmosphere. And accuracy is not a particular requirement for carrying out such an attack.
Thus as discussed last month, we need BMD readiness to counter such EMP attack threats that also could cause major damage to our undersea cables that are essential for communications and commerce around the world.
So … Saturday’s false alarm should be an unmistakable wakeup call for the Trump administration’s Missile Defense Review, nearing completion within weeks. And Congress should pass an appropriately funded defense bill to assure such defenses are available ASAP.
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