TheMissile Defense Agency is soliciting public comments through April 12 on the $1.9 billion missile radar system in Hawaii after narrowing down the possible locations to the Army’s Kahuku Training Area on Oahu or the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.
“The ballistic missile defense of Hawaii and our nation must be a top priority,” Kahele told Civil Beat later in an emailed statement. “However after extensive conversations with the North Shore and Kahuku community, I oppose the placement of the Homeland Defense Radar on the island of Oahu.”
“The most suitable and logical location for the Homeland Defense Radar is on Kauai at the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands,” he added.
Proposed development on the North Shore has frequently led to stiff opposition from local residents, most recently in a bitter battle over wind farms. Late last year, several local civic organizations formed the Koolau Waialua Alliance specifically to oppose placing the missile defense system at Kahuku.
“We learned from our wind turbine struggle that we needed to work together with the different groups within our community that have similar interests,” said Tevita Ka’ili, a spokesman for the Koolau Waialua Alliance and a former president of the Kahuku Community Association.
The military scouted several locations along the North Shore, including Kaena Point. That location was scrapped both because of potential logistical difficulties and cost overruns. It was also home to endangered species and several ancient Hawaiian cultural sites.
North Shore opponents argue the same issues persist at Kahuku, raising concerns that construction and the traffic it brings will disrupt life in surrounding communities.
“We’ve known from previous archaeological assessments of the area that there are a lot of undocumented historical and cultural sites there,” argued Ka’ili, who teaches cultural anthropology at Brigham Young University Hawaii.
This month, Indo-Pacific Command’s outgoing commander Adm. Phil Davidson presented a $27 billion wish list to Congress, including continued funding for the radar.
“Here in Hawaii, the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii represents the solution for the gap in our ability to detect, track, discriminate, and defeat ballistic, cruise, and hypersonic missile threats,” Davidson said in a March 1 speech during a defense conference in Honolulu.
The MDA has acknowledged the HDR-H won’t detect hypersonic missiles. But while the HDR-H might not detect the latest generation of high-tech weapons, some analysts assert it could still detect launches from North Korea’s less sophisticated — but still potentially powerful — nuclear arsenal.
North Korea developed nuclear weapons over the objections of its allies in China, causing concerns in both Washington and Beijing. Though Davidson considers China to be the most powerful potential adversary to U.S. forces in the region, he has noted that he considered North Korea the most urgent.
Joe Wilson, an organizer of the Koolau Waialua Alliance, said he’s not naive about international politics. “It’s not to say we don’t believe that there’s a role for the military and that there are sometimes these larger questions of defense,” he said.
“But we are against the idea of how these things happen, where they’re placed, what the potential threats are and how actually necessary it is,” Wilson added. “What seems to be the motivating force is those who see this as an economic development strategy from Hawaii. And that’s just not right.”
This year the Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism recommended standing up a new “defense sector alliance” in hopes of using Pentagon spending to grow the islands’ technology and engineering workforce.
The Chamber of Commerce Hawaii’s Military Affairs Council has insisted that the HDR-H will create jobs for local companies through subcontracts during its construction and would employ a wide range of tech and engineering workers when it becomes operational.
“People have come up with new ways to be really thinking about other areas, such as agriculture and so forth, that would be more sustainable and also provide food security,” said Ka’ili. “I think that it’s important for us to invest in something that will be much more long term better for the environment than something like militarism.”
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Kevin Knodell reported on the military and veterans for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported topics.