PMRF capable of handling N. Korean strike

If North Korea launched a nuclear attack on Hawai‘i or Kaua‘i, anti-missile defense technology developed at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Mana could knock down an incoming warhead, a PMRF official said yesterday.

The Navy Aegis combat system and the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system could knock down an intercontinental ballistic missile at different elevations, PMRF spokesman Tom Clements said yesterday.

“Aegis is designed to hit the missile earlier in its flight path than THAAD, which hits the missile as it heads back toward earth,” said Clements, who heads the public affairs department at the base.

Clements made comments in response to queries from The Garden Island on how the island might fare in a nuclear attack.

Because of strategic military installations on O‘ahu, Hawai‘i could be targeted by North Korea, which reportedly conducted an underground nuclear test on Monday.

President Bush has said North Korea’s claim of a nuclear test establishes that country as a “threat to international peace.” The United Nations and the United States are seeking economic sanctions at this time.

Clements said PMRF is primarily a training and testing facility, but could assist Pacific Command on O‘ahu in any nuclear attack of the state.

“There are appropriate security measures that any military institution would be capable of,” Clements said. “However, for operation reasons, we can’t discuss the specifics.”

Clements said the track record of the Aegis system shows it can be counted upon to knock down any far-reaching missile launches from North Korea, should they occur.

“In testing Aegis, we have had seven out of eight successful intercepts,” he said.

Eight “enemy” missiles launched from PMRF over the last four years were intercepted by missiles from Aegis destroyers, he said.

The THAAD system has been tested at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range Facility in New Mexico, and the first THAAD launches at PMRF are scheduled for January, Clements said.

The Navy has four major defense assets on O‘ahu that can neutralize any ballistic missile plans by North Korea, according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

The Alexandria, Va.-based organization encourages the development of defenses against missile launches by ground, sea, air and space.

“On the forefront of our country’s most western state, against the backdrop of the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, floats four of our major missile defense assets; the USS Russell, USS Lake Erie, USS Port Royal and SBX-1,” the organization said in a statement. “These four ships, in conjunction with the GBI sites in Alaska and California, can neutralize North Korea’s ballistic missile intentions.”

In the last 12 months, 13 ballistic missiles were successfully intercepted during testing, the organization said.

Clifford Ikeda, a Kaua‘i County Civil Defense Office official, said emergency programs would kick in after a nuclear attack on Kaua‘i.

“We always have a plan, and specific plans are always updated,” Ikeda said.

How much of the island would be destroyed will depend on the size of the warhead, though because of the island’s 553-square-mile area, he said, “I can’t see Kaua‘i being obliterated.”

Regardless, Ikeda said a direct hit would cause a high death toll, and the county would have a major cleanup, although, again, the extent would be determined by the size of the warhead.

Hawai‘i Army National Guard Maj. Chuck Anthony said his organization doesn’t engage in scenarios on nuclear attacks.

The Guard cannot lay down a specific plan following a disaster due to variables — including the size of the warhead and its impact.

“So it is hard to nail down a prescribed plan in response to a man-made or natural disaster,” he said. “But you constantly train and constantly prepare to employ our forces and equipment in a myriad of situations.”

What the Guard learned during natural disasters can theoretically be applied after a nuclear attack, he said.

“We provide military support for civil authorities, regardless of the threat, whether it is natural or man-made,” he said.

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