WASHINGTON/SEOUL/SINGAPORE – The U.S. Defense Department plans to slash the budget for missile defense including programs to address a threat from North Korea as part of its budget request for fiscal 2017, the department said Tuesday.
The Pentagon estimated the amount of the overall defense budget for the next fiscal year starting in October at $582.7 billion, up from $580.3 billion for the current year, including $58.8 billion to finance combat operations overseas, up from $58.6 billion.
The Pentagon called for $9.1 billion for missile defense programs including capabilities to address the growing threat from North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, which drew international condemnation by launching a long-range rocket Saturday in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The missile defense budget stands at $9.8 billion this current fiscal year. The department said it will maintain the 44 ground-based interceptors installed in Alaska and California in the next fiscal year.
The fiscal 2017 budget proposal for missile defense includes the procurement of 24 interceptors for an advanced land-to-air ballistic missile interception system.
The North Korean rocket launch, widely regarded as a cover for testing a long-range ballistic missile, prompted the United States and South Korea to announce a plan to talk about the possible deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea.
For years South Korea has danced around the idea of THAAD, which targets missiles at high altitudes and could complement lower-altitude defenses already in the country. That is mainly because it risks annoying neighbor China, which has warned against THAAD being deployed on the Korean peninsula. It could also spur Japan to look at using it.
South Korea opening to THAAD may increase calls in Japan to follow suit. Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said in November that Japan was considering the deployment of THAAD to counter any potential strike from North Korea, although Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the country had no plan at the moment to introduce the system. Japan and South Korea both have Patriot missiles and the countries, alongside China and India, are among the biggest spenders on defense in Asia.
The THAAD system is designed to intercept ballistic missiles flying midway through their arc, when their altitude may be extremely high.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon called for $7.5 billion for anti-Islamic State operations, such as the training of opposition forces in Iraq and Syria, up 50 percent from the current year’s $5 billion.
The spending for combat outside the United States also included outlays to support “partner nations” fighting the spread of Islamic State activities to Afghanistan and Libya, according to the Pentagon.
In its budget proposal, the department also mentioned “the rising importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region” and the increasing frequency and intensity of maritime territorial disputes — an apparent reference to Chinese activities in contested areas in the South China Sea.