The big question on many people’s minds during The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii ’s 11th Annual Military Partnership Conference Thursday was how the United States’ focus on the Pacific would impact the Aloha State given the uncertainties with new leadership in North Korea, China’s increasing military and economic might, and impending defense cuts.
Generals and admirals spoke about how Hawaii is at the crossroads of the Pacific and key to national security.
But even the U.S. Pacific Command’s top officer, Adm. Robert Willard, conceded that it’s unclear how the budget ax will fall here in Hawaii.
“This is about making the right decisions,” he told PBN during the conference. “I think the impact of the budget reductions will be felt more in other regions.”
Generals and admirals under Willard’s command echoed his views as they gave presentation after presentation loaded with colorful maps and fancy graphics about the military in Hawaii.
“We are in the Pacific Century,” said Adm. Patrick Walsh, the top brass in the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.
Willard’s deputy commander, Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Darnell, even went so far as calling North Korea, with the rise of its 28-year-old leader Kim Jong Un last month, the most immediate threat.
“They are behaving themselves,” Darnell said about North Korea at the moment.
But he said the U.S. is worried that a conflict with North Korea could escalate to include nearby powers China, Russia and U.S. allies.
From an economic standpoint, construction and other sources of employment and money to local contractors didn’t seem to be feeling the effects of looming cuts — at least not yet.
The Hawaii National Guard still plans to award millions in contracts to house and maintain F-22 stealth fighter jets.
And there will be another $100 million in projects out for bid just from Pacific Air Forces in the next year or two, said Lt. Gen. Paul Selva, vice commander of Pacific Air Forces.