WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Missile Defense Agency, citing growing missile threats from North Korea and Iran, said on Wednesday the United States was carrying out increasingly realistic tests of its missile defenses while also beefing up cybersecurity.
MDA Director Navy Vice Admiral James Syring said North Korea has fielded hundreds of missiles that could reach U.S. forces based in South Korea and Japan, while Iran was stepping up work on more sophisticated missiles.
Both countries could achieve the ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile as early as this year, he told a hearing of the defense subcommittee for the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Syring said the agency was carrying out more war games and exercises to prepare for possible attacks, while increasing the tempo and complexity of its testing, reducing costs and investing in new technologies.
“I believe we are turning the corner with our homeland defenses,” he told the subcommittee, which is considering the agency’s $8.1 billion budget request for fiscal 2016.
But Syring warned that failure by U.S. lawmakers to lift congressional budget caps that are due to resume in fiscal 2016 could jeopardize funding for two key programs, a redesigned warhead and a new long-range radar. He said both are urgently needed to improve the capabilities of the ground-based homeland missile defense system.
Syring said the agency would carry out 12 flight tests of various parts of the multi-layered system in fiscal 2015, after seven tests from October 2013 to now. Seven more tests were planned in fiscal year 2016, which begins Oct. 1.
The agency is also working closely with the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester and the military commands that operate missile defense systems to ensure the ability to defend against escalating cyber attacks, Syring said.
He said the agency completed dozens of complex tests and inspections to improve the cyber defenses of its weapons systems, guard against attacks by insiders in the system and ensure that its contractors and suppliers do a better job protecting their own computer networks.
“We have seen too many instances where malicious cyber actors attempt to exfiltrate information from them, especially from their unclassified, commercial networks that have exposure to the Internet,” Syring told the subcommittee.
He gave no details, but said the agency would continue to work with industry and federal law enforcement officials to track down attackers. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dan Grebler)