The Trump administration budget document recently released projects an increase in security and defense spending of more than $50 billion. It’s a needed shot in the arm, provided it’s spent wisely and on things actually necessary.
It’s important the defense community realize the days of blank checks are over. There’s no problem in government that can be solved just by throwing more money at it. This includes the vital functions performed by the Pentagon, the service branches, and the Department of Homeland Security. They too need to understand they have to find ways to do more with less just like every other part of the federal government even if the Congress and the president are willing, at the start, to give them more.
The higher number in Trump’s initial budgeting is due not just to the threat posed by ISIS but by the increasing belligerence of rogue states like North Korea (which is consistently testing missiles they argue will go farther and farther once in the air) and Iran. They want to join the global nuclear club in the worst way, not because it enhances their own security but because it would give them the power to blackmail the United States and other great powers, holding the security of vital regions of the world hostage to their demands.
Washington has the opportunity in coming weeks to take a strong stand against all this while reexamining past policies, doctrine and unwritten rules of missile defense, a subject neglected by the Obama administration in virtually all but name over the last eight years. Congress can use the upcoming Defense Appropriations bills to get the nation back on course toward ensuring U.S. missile defense is comprehensive, robust and an essential safeguard against the ability of rogue regimes to engage in nuclear blackmail.
From a near-term perspective the most imminent threat seems to be to Hawaii, home base of America’s military presence in the Pacific with 11 bases across multiple service branches and countless strategic assets. In a global sense it’s uncomfortably close to North Korea and problematically far from the continental United States, something that could become quite clear in a matter of minutes.
Defending Hawaii must be a priority for the Trump administration, Congress, and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency. Time is of the essence. It’s likely the Missile Defense Agency will request millions this year to develop a new medium-range discrimination radar system, known as Homeland Discrimination Radar Hawaii or HDR-HI as part of its overall defensive plan. Unfortunately MDA has, at least in recent years, shown more interest in multi-million and billion-dollar pie in the sky systems years away from being operational than it has shown in things that could work now.
We don’t know how fast the regime in Pyongyang is really moving toward have operational missiles that can be used against targets in the United States – but that’s not something we want to confirm the hard way. Preparedness is the key. A modest investment in a combination of current capabilities the Pentagon has already invested in developing, including the likes of THAAD with the AN/TPY-2 radar and Aegis Ashore equipped with SM-3 missiles could protect Hawaii from the North Korean threat not in five years but today.
The Missile Defense Agency can’t be trusted with a blank check. As prominent defense policy expert Loren Thompson wrote for Forbes, the MDA “relative to its size has probably wasted more money on canceled technology projects than any other federal organization in modern times.” It is essential we presume things are moving even faster than they appear to be lest Pearl Harbor be subjected to another devastating surprise attack that nearly cripples the U.S. military presence in the Pacific.
Luck saved us once, because Halsey’s carriers were at sea when they should have been in port. We can’t depend on fortune to save us a second time. Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Denny Roy, recently noted “People think of Hawaii as an isolated paradise but it could be targeted by an adversary wanting to neutralize the U.S. military in the Pacific.”
Hawaii is our first line of defense in the Pacific and we must protect it with proven, available systems that allow for immediate security realized. We can’t afford to wait years and spend millions or maybe billions to see if MDA’s new radar is the solution in the distant future.
Given the growing and very real ballistic missile threats emerging from pariah states with little to lose, decision makers in the nation’s capital should move to swiftly strengthen Hawaii’s defenses with existing technology. As the White House and Congress review and reset our defense policy and spending—it’s not only critical we make greater investments in missile defense, but it’s also critical we make the right investments to ensure our missile defense architecture meets growing near-term threats, while also looking to advanced technology for future threats.
- Peter Roff is a Washington commentator who appears regularly on the One America News network and for many years wrote for United Press International.