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US Missile Defense Funding Could Get Boost Amid North Korean Threats

As Congress heads into the end of the year, lawmakers predict a continuing resolution will keep defense funding flat in most sectors.

But the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that some are working to negotiate a special plus-up for missile defense in recognition of rising threats from an increasingly capable and unpredictable North Korea.

"I was very surprised when the Trump budget came over in May and actually cut missile defense from what we were spending this year, in spite of a rapid pace of tests that are coming from North Korea," said Rep. Mac Thornberry, speaking at the Defense News conference near Washington, D.C.

"There are some areas we hopefully can make progress on and not leave at a CR level, and we'll try to influence that as best we can," he said.

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The White House budget request for defense in fiscal 2018 is more than $300 million below what had been appropriated this year, a fact that drew angst from multiple lawmakers, including Thornberry.

This year alone, North Korea has conducted 14 missile tests, firing 21 missiles.

In a July 4 test, it likely successfully launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile, according to U.S. analysts, raising questions about a range that could extend to U.S. cities.

Most recently, North Korea launched a missile over Japan on Aug. 29, prompting threats from the Pentagon of a "massive" military response if aggression continues.

The Texas Republican did not say how much he anticipated a boost to missile defense funding might total, but said a potential exceptional funding measure would cover interceptors and research, as well as other elements.

However, Thornberry added, such a measure is not a full solution in light of North Korean aggression.

"It seems to me to be clear that we need to put more planes, more ships, more intelligence assets, more munitions in place, because it may come to the point where we've got to defend ourselves and our allies," he said.

"The approach of scolding others while cutting our own military has clearly proven not to be effective," he added. "I certainly agree that diplomacy should lead, but it is inevitable true that diplomacy works better when it is backed up by military strength."

Faced with a continuing resolution that he said would promote inefficiency and hinder Pentagon planning, Thornberry said he also hopes to pass other one-time spending exceptions aimed at improving readiness, shoring up equipment maintenance, advancing training, and addressing personnel issues.

"If you remember last December, Congress prevented the Obama administration from cutting the size of the Army and some of the other services like they wanted to," he said.

"There is a personnel cost that goes with that. So there may well be a series of areas where we can try to ameliorate the detrimental effects of a CR. ... We're just trying to make the best of a bad situation," he said.

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