The U.S. Defense Department this week proposed cutting more than a half-billion dollars from missile defense next year even amid heightened concern over North Korea and new intelligence suggesting Pyongyang may be able to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.
The Pentagon plans to spend $9.16 billion on ballistic missile defense in fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1, according to budget documents. That's $558 million, or 5.7 percent, less than the $9.72 billion it requested for this year. The figures don't take into account automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration, which took effect March 1.
Concerned about the proposed reduction, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., during an April 11 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee cited what he said was a releasable portion of a classified intelligence report that concluded North Korea "has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however, the reliability will be low."
Afterward, the Pentagon downplayed the assessment.
"While I cannot speak to all the details of a report that is classified in its entirety, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage," Press Secretary George Little said in an e-mailed statement. "The United States continues to closely monitor the North Korean nuclear program and calls upon North Korea to honor its international obligations."
The U.S. missile-defense system includes sea, ground, air and space components designed to intercept ballistic missiles during any phase of flight. Major contractors include Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co.
The budget would cut the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, missile made by Lockheed, by about two-thirds to $337 million. The missile is designed to counter short-range threats.
However, the spending plan would drastically boost funding for PAC-3 upgrades. The so-called Missile Segment Enhancement program, designed to make the missile more lethal, would receive $609 million, an increase of more than sevenfold. Other big-ticket programs would benefit, too:
The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, the sea-based leg of the program that includes Navy cruisers and destroyers equipped with the Aegis radar system and Standard Missile-3, or SM-3, interceptors, would get $1.52 billion, a 10-percent increase. Lockheed is the main contractor for the Aegis system; Raytheon makes the SM-3.
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the land-based component that includes missiles stored in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, would receive $1.03 billion, a 14-percent gain. The money would fund improvements to the system as part of a goal to increase the fleet of interceptors to 44 from 30. Boeing is the main contractor for the system.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense program, known as THAAD, a truck-mounted launcher, would receive $850 million, an increase of 9.3 percent. The Pentagon last week announced it would deploy one of the Lockheed-made systems to Guam in response to North Korea's threat of a missile attack against the South and U.S. targets in the region.