Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.) revealed that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) recently determined North Korea has the ability to put a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, although with limited reliability, during Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
"Outside experts said that the report's conclusions helped explain why the administration announced last month that it was bolstering long-range missile defenses in Alaska and California, designed to protect the West Coast, and was rushing another antimissile system, originally not intended for deployment until 2015, to Guam," the New York Times reported Thursday afternoon.
The disclosure was made during a several-hour hearing at which Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described the current budgetary shortfalls as an opportunity to "shape" and "reform" the military for "a different time."
The budget reflects the president’s strategy to create "a smaller and leaner force," Hagel said. This drawdown would be two-thirds complete by the end of fiscal year 2014.
Hagel and Dempsey said the mandatory budget cuts known as the "sequester" were detrimental to the military’s preparedness. They also noted the fiscal crunch on the military could continue without congressional action, as the Budget Control Act of 2011, which implemented the sequester, contains further cuts in the fall.
Hagel’s presentation to the House committee came after President Barack Obama introduced his 2014 budget on Wednesday. The budget cuts about $120 billion from the department’s current budget, although it does not include the upcoming sequestration cuts.
While the hearing on Thursday was largely cordial, committee chairman Buck McKeon (R., Calif.) indicated his displeasure with the president’s budget for the Defense Department in his opening statement. He asked why "our troops are again being forced to foot the bill for out-of-control spending" and wanted to know which missions the military would now abandon with its budget cuts.
McKeon noted Chairman Dempsey had testified in February that the military would not be able to sustain any more fiscal cuts and maintain the same level of operations, testimony Dempsey reiterated on Thursday.
"The means to prepare [the military] are becoming uncertain," Dempsey said.
Hagel noted several areas of constriction, including in the healthcare plans for military families and in some areas of acquisitions. The military is increasing spending in other areas, such as cyber security, Hagel said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) confronted Hagel with the conventional view of his role in this administration.
"There is a widespread view that you were brought into the Pentagon to cut defense," Thornberry said.
"The president did not instruct me, when he asked me to consider doing this job, to go over and to cut the heart out of the Pentagon," Hagel said.
Congressmen pressed Hagel repeatedly on the fact that the defense budget does not account for future sequestration cuts, and each time he referred to an ongoing analysis his staff is performing to prepare for different budget conditions.
Hagel praised the president’s budget for including "balanced deficit reduction proposals" that would allow Congress to repeal the sequestration.
He also noted the cuts to the military’s budget were back-loaded, which would give the department more time to plan for them but also means that many of the cuts would be implemented after the president and his administration leave office.
Over the course of the three-and-a-half hour hearing, congressmen asked about topics ranging from sexual assault in the military, the potential for base closures, and nuclear proliferation—an issue that attracted attention during Hagel’s confirmation battle. Hagel insisted that the Department of Defense does not fund nonproliferation initiatives, as that issue falls to the State Department.
The hearing was the first for Sec. Hagel before the House committee since he suffered a bruising fight in the Senate Armed Services Committee over his confirmation.