Jon Letman / The Daily Beast – 2018-01-20 00:35:59
The Island Paradise Where The US
Tests Missiles to ‘Neutralize/ the North Korean Threat
Jon Letman / The Daily Beast
KAUAI, Hawaii (January 19, 2018) — With a sprawling empty golden beach behind him, United States Navy Capt. Vincent Johnson, commanding officer of the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) on this “garden island” in the Hawaiian archipelago, employs a real estate cliche to describe why his naval base is one of the world’s premier places to test and train for battle: “Location, location, location,” he says.
Clinging to the far west side of Hawaii’s westernmost main island, PMRF goes unseen by the throngs of tourists and is far removed from busy shipping lanes and air traffic. This remoteness adds to the appeal of a base that is used for surface, subsurface, air, and space testing and training.
The fact that North and South Korea are now set to share the limelight at the Winter Olympics next month has allowed the world to catch its breath. War seems less imminent.
But you wouldn’t know that here. Because if there is a war with North Korea, or with China, or indeed with almost any power that has a sophisticated arsenal, the weapons perfected on Kauai are the ones that are supposed to neutralize the threat.
PMRF is used by every branch of the US military as well as NASA and Sandia National Laboratories. It can accommodate drones and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as well as simulated amphibious assaults and helicopter raids.
Offshore, the Air Force uses the surrounding waters for Long Range Strike live fire testing, but PMRF’s primary purpose is as a testing and training site (PDF) for precision tracking (PDF), surveillance, advanced radar, and weapons like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
It’s deployed in Guam and, controversially, in South Korea, where Beijing takes particular umbrage precisely because its “surveillance” and “advanced radar” may reach into Chinese territory.
Last Oct. 31, PMRF was the launch site for a test related to Conventional Prompt Global Strike (PDF), which is developing an Advanced Hypersonic Weapon designed to strike anywhere in the world in under an hour, as The Daily Beast
PMRF is a critical testing and development complex for Aegis. In December, Japan’s government announced it would be buying two Aegis Ashore batteries for an estimated $2 billion. Earlier this month Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera took the rare step of flying to Kauai to visit PMRF for a firsthand look at the Aegis Ashore’s computer command and radar facilities.
Speaking to Japanese reporters — there was no US media present — Onodera explained that Japan sees Aegis Ashore as a means of defending itself from both ballistic and cruise missiles. Onodera said the US Pacific Command’s Adm. Harry Harris suggested Aegis Ashore is “probably the best option” for countering North Korea’s missile threats. But the arms bazaar hardly ends there.
The day before Onodera visited PMRF, the US State Department approved the $133 million sale of SM-3 Block IIA missiles, manufactured by Raytheon Corp. The arms deals come on the heels of President Donald Trump’s East Asia trip in which he repeatedly boasted about selling more weapons to South Korea and Japan.
Aegis Ashore, which Japan could introduce by 2023, has already been deployed to a newly completed US Naval base in the Romanian countrysidein 2016. A second Aegis Ashore site is slated for completion at a Polish military base this year.
The US says the eastern European deployments are to deter conflict and defend against “Iran and other nefarious non-state actors,” but Russia sees itself as being targeted and considers it a “direct threat.”
The Russian foreign ministry has accused the Aegis Ashore deployments of violating the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Similarly, China has expressed strong opposition to the Aegis Ashore as well as the THAAD system in South Korea.
This week, direct talks between North and South Korea — which seemed unimaginable late last year — have yielded an Olympic diplomatic breakthrough and a notable easing of tensions as the two Koreas prepare to play under one flag and with a joint women’s ice hockey team.
How far Korean diplomacy will go is uncertain, but the US vows it won’t be driven away from South Korea by Pyongyang and has doubled down on its insistence that the Korean Peninsula must be completely denuclearized, meaning that North Korea must give up what Kim Jong Un sees as decisive deterrence vital to the survival of the regime.
Meanwhile back on Kauai, which was rattled last weekend by a false alarm about an incoming ballistic missile, the United States’ own tests of outgoing weapons systems will continue.
In December, President Trump delivered a National Security Strategy, which calls for a “multi-layered missile defense.” Asked what that could mean for PMRF, Capt. Johnson said, “I don’t think you’re going to see any changes.”
Missile tests are the primary reason PMRF exists, said Johnson. “We’re here because we are stewards of the nation’s security. There’s no other reason to be the last zip code in the United States.”
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