DOD denies ducking Congress on East Coast missile shield

"Steps are going forward" at the Pentagon and Strategic Command to assess the viability of an East Coast missile shield, along with near-term fixes to increase defensive measures against attacks on the Eastern seaboard, Kehler said. 

Kehler's comments come as congressional Republicans are again ramping up rhetoric on the need for a new missile shield. 

On Tuesday, House Republicans blocked a Democrat-led effort to strip funds for the new missile shield from the lower chamber's version of the fiscal year 2014 defense spending bill. 

The amendment, offered by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), would have cut $70 million in unrequested funds related to the shield's development. 

Nadler said the Pentagon is already studying the site and that the extra funding is not needed, but the House disagreed in a 173-249 vote.

It is the second year in a row House GOP members are pushing through legislation to fully fund the new missile site. 

North Korea's recent nuclear saber-rattling earlier this year reignited debate over the necessity of a new missile defense system, with GOP members claiming Pyongyang's actions exposed U.S. vulnerabilities to missile attacks on the East Coast.

"The threat is very real [and] it needs to be corrected ... it needs to be addressed," Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James InhofeJames InhofeWasting America’s nuclear opportunity McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty GOP signals infrastructure bill must wait MORE (R-Okla.) told Defense Department officials in March. 

If North Korea and Iran "are able to have a system that can reach ... the East Coast by 2015, are we already behind" in U.S. efforts to mitigate the threat, Sen. Deb FischerDeb FischerSenators eye ticket fee to overhaul airports Lobbying World Congress must stop the assault on taxpayer-friendly freight railroads MORE (R-Neb.) added at the time. 

But the near-term defensive fixes the DOD is planning for the East Coast will be enough to mitigate the threat from North Korea and others, Kehler said Wednesday. 

The Pentagon will "get more benefit, sooner" from the network of advanced sensors and other measures set to deploy on the East Coast, Kehler said Wednesday. 

DOD officials are also actively pursuing environmental studies and surveys, to see if certain locations on the Eastern Seaboard can support a new ballistic missile site, Kehler added. 

That said, Pentagon and command officials "are not trying to make this an either-or scenario," Kehler said regarding the department's efforts to defend the East Coast against attack.