Nearly two years ago, when locals were sent in error an alert that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii at the height of tensions with North Korea, it was as if the world was ending for some.

Having spent most of my childhood on Strategic Air Command bases which were primary targets for multiple, overlapping warhead strikes, I for one made peace with the concept of being vaporized a long time ago and dismissed the alert.

Besides, as somewhat of a history buff, I felt the alert was idiotic at best, because as Soviet Col. Stanislav Petrov wisely observed, no one starts a nuclear war with just one missile.

Electronic sign reads 'MISSILE ALERT IN ERROR THERE IS NO THREAT' on January 13, 2018
While the 2018 missile alert was a mistake, the threat remains. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

But what if a nuclear missile attack really was launched against Hawaii one day? And what if it was possible to intercept and stop the strike before it could hit?

That question is precisely what drives the existence of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, an organization tasked with preventing a nuclear catastrophe by providing a safety net, in the event deterrence fails, with anti-ballistic missiles – defensive weapons intended to shoot down incoming enemy warheads – before they can hit U.S. cities.

Originally, in the days of the Ford Administration when America first fielded the Safeguard Missile Program, shooting down incoming warheads was nearly impossible due to the overwhelming computing requirements and speed necessary to intercept a warhead. To compensate for this, point-defense anti-ballistic missiles like the Sprint were created, which used small, enhanced-radiation nuclear warheads designed to render useless the circuitry of any missiles that flew through their blast within a wide area of orbital effect.

How Missile Defense Works

Today, computing technology has greatly advanced since the days of Safeguard, and nuclear weapons are no longer needed to destroy incoming warheads in orbit. Modern defense leverages a concept called “sensor to shooter” which means timely, accurate battlespace information guides our weapons rather than just disproportionate, brute force.

All that is needed now is an early warning system to detect a missile launch and an interceptor linked to a sensor system capable of discerning the difference between a nuclear warhead and other objects like the booster stages of its missile, decoys, or space junk in orbit.

NOTE: pick the correct link

This is why Hawaii has been selected for the MDA’s Homeland Defense Radar, to allow the military to spare Hawaii from an ever-proliferating ballistic missile threat around the world, and to give a president flexible response options rather than locking the White House into having to respond to an attempted nuclear attack against U.S. soil with nuclear weapons in-kind.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies has created an infographic for its educational Missile Defense Project, which shows the current defensive systems deployed in Hawaii and around the world, which can be viewed online here.

Why We Shouldn’t Oppose the Radar

Hawaii has a unique place in modern defense planning, not merely because of our proximity to Asia, but because historically, the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor demonstrated that a bolt-from-the-blue, “splendid first strike” which “decapitates” U.S. forces (or leadership) is entirely possible by an enemy if detection and early warning is not available. That threat still remains.

Hawaii, which is presently in the throes of an economic disparity and land use crisis, has seen the rise of an extremely restless population that is hyperallergic to anything being built or introduced, no matter whether it is a Target in Kailua, an inter-island SuperFerry, Honolulu rail, a telescope on Mauna Kea, a sports complex in Waimanalo, and more recently, a defense radar.

Already, stirrings against the radar seem to be in the air, and many expect that should the radar move forward, protests against it will commence.

While it is understandable that some locals may feel that they are being left behind, even forgotten in Hawaii as large corporations, foreigners and the military pursue various developments, we need to separate angst against population outcomes from technological advancement or economic development.

To begin, missile defense is something that concerns us all. Protesting a defensive radar that prevents missiles from hitting Hawaii or the continental U.S. is counterproductive to our safety.

Iran’s recent bombardment of an American airbase in Iraq with Fateh-110 and Qiam-1 ballistic missiles demonstrates that missile technology, once the domain of superpowers, is a genie out-of-the bottle, and it is only a question of time before Iran, North Korea and other small powers eventually develop the capability to launch long-range missiles that can hit any target in the world.

This Aug. 29, 2017 photo provided by the Department of Defense shows a medium-range ballistic missile target is launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. The U.S. military has shot down a medium range ballistic missile during a test off Hawaii. The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai Island launched the target missile late Tuesday, Aug. 29. Sailors aboard the destroyer USS John Paul Jones tracked the target with radar and then fired an interceptor missile to shoot it down. The test comes amid ongoing North Korean ballistic missile tests. Earlier Tuesday (Latonja Martin/Department of Defense via AP)
This 2017 photo provided by the Department of Defense shows a medium-range ballistic missile target as it launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai. AP

Second and more importantly, one should not overlook the long-term financial benefits of increasing military and homeland security assets in Hawaii. One of the reasons why Hawaii was so successful, livable and aesthetic when Sen. Daniel Inouye was still alive was because he intentionally steered everything imaginable to the islands, along with the federal dollars that came with it.

There is no reason why building a defense radar in Hawaii should be a fiasco. Even if one believes that it could be an environmental or cultural detriment, that can easily become a positive if our congressional delegation were to use that as leverage to ask for additional federal funding for environmental and cultural protection. We need to look for wins in this state, not more excuses to drive everything and everyone away.

The question we really need to ask one another is are we really going to protest everything to disrupt everyone – a “Crab Bucket” syndrome – just because we aren’t happy with the way things are in Hawaii? Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot economically or sabotage public safety and national security. We need the radars, and we need to move forward in Hawaii.

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About the Author

  • Danny de Gracia

    Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

    Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

    He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

    Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.