Kim Jong Un certainly seems crazy. But sound mind isn’t a requirement for predictable action. Tyrants often mask steady goals with wild behavior. One need only think of world pests like Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein to realize entire regions can be thrust into unwanted global crises.
Like Castro and Saddam, Kim Jong Un has made clear he’s dedicated to expanding his ability to harm America and her allies. The difference is, he has a nuclear capability, not a borrowed or boasted one. North Korea has a proven record of long-range missile development that could ultimately hit the American mainland.
North Korea can already hit our bases abroad, our trading partners and our allies. Worse still, it’s exporting this technology to other friendly loons in the Middle East.
Not to respond is dangerous. Not to understand the growing threat is disastrous. Regarding the current danger with North Korea, it comes as no surprise that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel chose to deploy the “Army Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance” (AN/TPY-2) radar to the Japanese mainland.
Also known as the “Tippy Two,” this radar outpost is part of a broader strategy to better protect against the growing missile threat posed by Kim Jong Un.
The Tippy Two is the most advanced mobile radar system on the planet. Numerous simulations have proven its ability to identify and track a wide variety of missiles with great precision. Tippy Two radars can also conduct “real-time discrimination” — tech speak for being able to look at a complex radar picture and determine what is a real and what isn’t. But right now, there aren’t enough Tippy Twos — a point that I and many others have been making for a while.
Eight Tippy Twos are already in use. Four are currently deployed around the globe to help protect the United States, our military and our allies. Redeploying one of these units to Japan would leave American soldiers and our friends vulnerable to attacks.
Three others are part of a missile defense system called THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense). Stripping radars from any one of the three THAAD batteries would render the systems useless and deprive our warriors of a critical defense capability.
The final Tippy Two unit is the one most likely headed to Japan. It has been reserved for technological research and testing.
Deploying this unit would have consequences. Without it, researchers will have a much harder time translating technological developments into improved missile detection on the battlefield, before a disaster strikes. Geo-politically, we also can’t underestimate the important message a successful test sends. To our citizens and friends, it’s a message of reassurance. To our enemies, it’s a powerful deterrent.
Simply put, the U.S. needs to manufacture more Tippy Twos by sticking to a commitment already made back in 2011. Defense officials can do it, and the plans are there to expand the Tippy Two supply to a size proportional to the global rogue-missile threat.
The 2011 federal budget included production plans for 18 new Tippy Twos. In 2012, however, amid growing fiscal discipline calls, federal officials scaled back that order to 11. The order was then bumped up to 12 by Congress. That total still isn’t nearly enough.
Even before this decision to deploy a Tippy Two to Japan, many industry observers had been calling for the Defense Department to restore that original 18-unit order and secure funding for the development of those final six units — three to be fielded as THAAD radars proven to help American troops and our allies protect against enemy missiles.
Lack of commitment on Capitol Hill to protect and fund missile defense capabilities at home will not be reciprocated by rogue world leaders. Iran’s nuclear ambitions remain undeterred by international sanction and condemnation. Iran is expected to develop long-range ballistic technologies as early as 2015, and North Korea is showing its capability now.
In fact, since the 2011 federal budget was prepared, the worldwide total of ballistic missiles outside of the control of America, China, Russia and NATO has increased from 6,240 to an alarming 6,340 — all in the hands of irresponsible players.
Now is the time for responsible players. Defense officials need to expand manufacturing of this vital technology to ensure America and its allies remain safe. And Congress must restore needed funding to advance this mobile radar system.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell is the author of “We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.” He is a military analyst for Concerned Veterans for America and served as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Oklahoma Senate.