The U.S. congressman who stirred debate this week about North Korea’s potential to launch a nuclear attack says he will work to restore funding for missile defense that was cut from the Pentagon’s budget request for next year.
In an interview with Military.com, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., criticized the Obama administration’s decision to reduce the Pentagon’s investment in missile defense when North Korea, led by the young dictator Kim Jong Un, is threatening to attack U.S. allies and targets in the region. The regime on April 12 reportedly warned Japan that Tokyo would be the first target in the event of war.
“We should not be cutting missile defense, especially at this point in time,” Lamborn said. “The bellicose statements that North Korea is making should cause everyone to want to make sure that that part of our defense and that part of our national security is as strong as possible.”
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 over the proposed reduction, Lamborn 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,” Little said.
Lamborn said he plans to work with congressional colleagues to restore funding for missile defense programs by an amount at least equal to the proposed reductions. He said the cuts stem from a decision to cancel a program called Medium Extended Air Defense System, known as MEADS.
Built by Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, MEADS was designed to replace the Patriot missile defense system made by Raytheon Co., the world’s largest missile producer. The system incorporates a Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, missile, with a suite of sensors and communications centers. It also features a 360-degree radar, which the Patriot system lacks.
The U.S., Germany and Italy together have spent about $3 billion on the program, which critics have called a “missile to nowhere” because the military doesn’t plan to continue development to full production. Most of the funding for the effort came from the U.S.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, this year was unable to strip $380 million in funding to complete the program’s development from a stop-gap budget bill despite multiple attempts.
“This is a weapons system that the Pentagon won’t use and Congress doesn’t want to fund. We shouldn’t waste any more money on a ‘missile to nowhere’ that will never reach the battlefield,” she said in a March 23 statement. “Every dollar we spend on a wasteful program is a dollar we don’t have to ensure our service members have everything they need to protect themselves and accomplish their missions.”
Her motivation may have been more parochial than financial. Many of the employees who work at the Raytheon plant in Andover, Mass., live in New Hampshire.
Lamborn said he’s not necessarily interested in redirecting the added funding back into MEADS. “That money would be valuable for research and development for other technologies that are getting shortchanged, like directed energy,” he said.