PACOM Commander Confirms North Korea’s Threat to Hawaii

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing today, Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), confirmed the threat of North Korea to Hawaiʻi and detailed potential vulnerabilities that exist within current U.S. missile defense capabilities that could put Hawaiʻi at risk.

Admiral Harry Harris

Asked by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard about the threat of North Korea to Hawaiʻi specifically, Admiral Harris stated, “Kim Jong-un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawai’i today…Our ballistic missile architecture is sufficient to protect Hawaiʻi today, but it can be overwhelmed. If Kim Jong-un or someone else launched ballistic missiles—ICBMs—against the United States, we would have to make the decision on which ones to take out or not.”

Following the hearing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:
“Hawaiʻi is home to the largest concentration of U.S. military strategic assets for well over 3,000 miles, making it a prime target for North Korea’s aggression. As I travelled across Hawai’i during my recent state-wide town hall tour, I heard from my constituents on every island their concern about the threat posed by North Korea’s increased nuclear and ballistic missile activity and capabilities that place Hawaiʻi squarely within North Korea’s crosshairs. It is the people of Hawaiʻi and our way of life that are at risk if North Korea’s missiles turn towards our shores. Admiral Harris’ testimony today affirmed the seriousness of this threat, and highlighted the need to strengthen our current missile defense infrastructure to ensure the defense of Hawai’i. I’m continuing this urgent push to strengthen the protection of Hawaiʻi against the threat that exists today, and the complex threat we know will emerge in the future. I urge my colleagues to take this threat seriously and provide the resources and tools necessary to defend Hawaiʻi against this threat.”

Background: Missile defense has been one of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s top priorities throughout her time in Congress. Last year, she passed two amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—one to provide funding to begin the process of bringing an MRDR to Hawaiʻi, and the other to require the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to brief Congress on their short-term plan to enhance missile defense capabilities in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific—and also questioned then SECDEF Carter and Chairman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the need to increase Hawaiʻi’s missile defense. She has had ongoing conversations and meetings with the Missile Defense Agency Director, Vice Admiral James Syring, to discuss possible options for the defense of Hawaiʻi, to deal with short term and long term needs. This includes quickly deployable options that are available to further strengthen the existing defensive assets within the state.

Senator Hirono Discusses Rebalance to the Pacific with Top Military and Defense Leaders

Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, met this week with top military and defense leaders and discussed critical military issues including the rebalance to the Pacific, the harmful effects of sequestration, investments in sustainable energy technology and efforts to prevent and prosecute sexual assaults in the military. Hirono met separately with Admiral Harry Harris, who will take over as Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in October, and Deborah Lee James, who will serve as Secretary of the Air Force if confirmed.

Hirono with Admiral Harry Harris.

Hirono with Admiral Harry Harris.

“I appreciated the opportunity to get to know Admiral Harris and Ms. James, two outstanding leaders who will play key roles in our national defense,” Hirono said. “Admiral Harris will do an excellent job taking over for Admiral Haney as Commander of the Pacific Fleet and has a deep knowledge of our military’s needs in the Pacific. Ms. James is an extremely knowledgeable and qualified candidate to serve as Secretary of the Air Force, and she would become only the second woman in history to fill that position. I wish her a quick confirmation.”

Hirono was also able to share with Harris and James some of her experiences meeting with Asia-Pacific leaders during her national defense-focused congressional delegation to China, Japan and South Korea.

Admiral Harry Harris is the highest-ranking Japanese-American naval officer. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Harris has served in every geographic combatant command region and was assigned in 2011 as the assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Hirono with Deborah Lee James.

Hirono with Deborah Lee James.

Deborah Lee James is President of the Technology and Engineering Sector at Science Applications International Corporation. Her professional experience includes a decade as a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee and serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Business Executives for National Security. James was nominated by President Obama in August and the Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to vote on her nomination next week.

Headquartered at Oahu’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the U.S. Pacific Fleet plays a critical role in maintaining the security and economic interests of our nation and its allies in the Asia-Pacific Region. The fleet’s command covers 100 million square miles and is supported by approximately 200 marine vessels, nearly 1,100 aircraft and more than 140,000 sailors and civilians.

The U.S. Air Force has a major presence in Hawaii, with more than 9,500 active duty, National Guard and Reserve and civilian personnel.