Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ordered the deployment of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to defend Hawaii should a pending North Korean long-range missile launch pose a threat to the US. The mobile ground-based missile defense system would augment longer-range missile interceptors based in Alaska. The US has also deployed the sea-based X-Band Radar (SBX) from Pearl Harbor to increase detection and intercept capabilities. The Obama administration was criticized for not deploying the highly capable radar prior to North Korea’s April launch of a long-range Taepo Dong-2 (TD-2) missile.
Augmenting the defense of Hawaii is a proper and prudent response to the potential for another North Korean long-range missile test. International diplomatic pressure has failed to deter Pyongyang from engaging in a series of rapid-fire provocations since January. The TD-2 launch and a nuclear weapons test in May were both in violation of existing UN resolutions. The Obama administration should publicly declare that it would intercept any North Korean missile that is determined to be on a threatening trajectory toward Hawaii or other US territory. Despite the growing North Korean and Iranian missile threats to the United States, the Obama administration recently slashed $1.4 billion from the missile defense budget.
A North Korean missile launch is not imminent since no missile has been observed on a launch pad. However, a missile transport train was observed during the past month at two North Korean launch facilities, including a newly complete launch site on the west coast. Pyongyang could potentially launch two long-range missiles, either two TD-2 ICBMs or a TD-2 and a Musudan-1 intermediate range ballistic missile that has been deployed but not yet tested. It could also augment the long-range missile launches with a multiple Scud short-range and No Dong medium-range missile launches as it did in July 2006. North Korea may decide to launch either on the July 4 anniversary of its 2006 TD-2 launch or the July 8 anniversary of the 1994 death of President Kim Il-sung.
Despite media reports that North Korea will launch a missile “toward Hawaii,” Pyongyang has not announced a forthcoming missile launch, including any specified trajectory, nor threatened US territory with a missile. North Korea’s bombastic propaganda has focused on threats to augment its nuclear weapons inventory or to respond “mercilessly” to US or UN actions, including intercepting North Korean ships suspected to be carrying contraband cargo.