To counterbalance China’s attempts at expanding influence in the Pacific, the US is investing billions of dollars in military infrastructure and diplomatic initiatives in Hawaii as part of the massive $1.7 trillion NDAA 2023. Hawaii is home to the US Indo-Pacific Command.
When US President Joe Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2023 into law last month, the provisions for financing weapon sales to Taiwan attracted the most eyeballs and infuriated China.
However, Washington’s decision to reinforce, arm, and defend a key Pacific military island, Hawaii, will be keenly watched by Beijing.
According to a report published in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the projects to be worked on include a new barrack on Marine Corps Base Hawaii for $87.9 million, an upgrade to the missile storage facilities at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for $103 million, a new company operations facility at Schofield Barracks $111 million, and the planned Army National Guard Readiness Center in Kapolei, which will cost $29 million.
US Representative Ed Case, who pushed for many of these provisions, said, “This measure strengthens our national defense and bolsters our commitments to diplomacy, development, and democracy throughout the Indo-Pacific, where the future of our country and world is being determined.”
The funding comes months after China pulled off a diplomatic blitzkrieg on the West as it signed a security cooperation agreement with the Pacific Island country of Solomon Islands.
The deal stoked fears that a Chinese military base could be established close to Australia. It would allow China to make ship visits to carry out logistical replenishment and have stop-overs and transitions in the Solomon Islands.
The Pacific has, until now, remained under the influence of the United States and Australia. However, the expansion of China in the region and military cooperation with Pacific Island Countries (PICs) could seriously challenge the status quo.
Moreover, an unnamed intelligence official from a US ally told the Financial Times last year that a similar agreement was being negotiated with Kiribati Islands.
One US official went so far as to claim that China has had its sights on Kiribati for some time. “They’ve had on-and-off discussions, not just for months but for years.” While the Kiribati government dismissed the claims at the time, they shook the higher-ups in the Pentagon.
Kiribati is located only 3000 kilometers from the US state of Hawaii, where the US Indo-Pacific Command is based. China is already working with Kiribati to upgrade an airstrip on the archipelago’s Kanton Island.
If a security deal between China and Kiribati were to go through, it would have brought the PLA closer to the US forces in the region. Hawaii is the most strategic US military outpost in the Pacific, alongside the island of Guam.
It assumes even more importance as tensions in the Indo-Pacific region continue to run high, with China pushing Taiwan to the corner and vowing to occupy it in time.
How Is The US Reinforcing Hawaii?
The law contains funds for two SSN-774 Virginia class attack submarines, which will be maintained at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and used for operations in the Pacific.
To service future submarines, the Navy is constructing a new $3.5 billion dry dock at the shipyard, which will also receive $621 million in financing from the law. The state’s major industrial employer is the shipyard, which has roughly 6,000 employees.
The X-Band Radar, a sea-based missile defense radar nicknamed the “golf ball” by particular Hawaii residents due to its enormous, white-domed look, will continue to be operated with $164 million funding provisioned under the bill. The radar covers Alaska and Hawaii and is significant given the uptick in missile tests in China and North Korea.
Even though the X-band radar and the forward-deployed AN/TPY-2 radar protect the island, Hawaii still does not have a dedicated missile defense system despite housing some major US military facilities and being in the line of fire.
The military and lawmakers debated the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii, or HDR-H, for the island territory for several years. However, the Hawaiian residents opposed the idea, saying it would take up space, jeopardize unique wildlife habitats, and harm Hawaiian cultural sites.
Some other critics opined that the latest hypersonic missiles employed by China and Russia could not be detected by the proposed system and would be obsolete by the time it was completed due to more effective space-based technologies.
This year, the congressional delegation stopped fighting for the defense homeland radar funds. However, the law calls for an evaluation of what should be done to safeguard Hawaii.
In addition, the law contains $393.2 million to support Guam’s missile defense, which is more vulnerable to Chinese and North Korean weaponry than Hawaii.
In the last few years, the defense of Hawaii had taken a back seat due to the growing threat and challenges in the Indo-Pacific region that required a shift in focus.
However, the last year has changed the dynamic and forced the Pentagon to rethink its position and strengthen its defenses in the Pacific- with a particular focus on Guam and Hawaii.
These two Pacific islands would prove to be crucial launch pads and supply chains in the event of a conflict with Beijing.
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