Deterring threats from North Korea is more important than budget constraints, the Pentagon's top officials said Thursday, adding any response must be strong enough to prove America's commitment to protect its allies.
North Korea has ramped up its belligerent rhetoric following U.N. sanctions earlier this year, and has claimed it will sever communications with neighboring South Korea. The U.S. responded with plans to increase its missile defense and flew stealth bombers on training missions over South Korea.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says that Kim Jong Un, North Korea's young leader, needs to learn that the United States and its allies are prepared to deal with "any eventuality there."
"Their very provocative actions and belligerent tone has ratcheted up the danger," Hagel told reporters on Thursday. "We have to understand that reality."
He reiterated statements from the White House that America will "unequivocally defend" allies, such as South Korea and Japan. Ongoing military exercises "are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared and to help them deter conflict."
The United States announced in March it would add 14 new missile interceptors in Alaska. On Thursday, it deployed two nuclear capable B-2 Spirit Bombers to fly over South Korea as a part of military exercise Key Resolve-Foal Eagle, which began in late February.
"The homeland cannot be considered a sanctuary as it has been for generations," said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. "It was the specific North Korean threat that caused this thinking to occur."
Dempsey is equally concerned about the proliferation of North Korea's weapons or cyber technologies.
Funding for the B-2 flight came out of the Blue Lightning global reaches exercise budget, Dempsey said, which allocates funds for these kinds of training missions. Even without pre-designated money, "we would have found a way to do this," he said.
B-2 missions cost roughly $135,000 per hour, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
North Korea watchers remain uncertain on who is actually in control in the reclusive communist state. Kim Jong Un, believed to be 29, inherited his title of supreme leader upon his father's death in December 2011. It is unclear if military decisions emanate from him, a family member or from the military elite.
Hagel called Kim "the leader of North Korea" Thursday, but added there are "a lot of unknowns."
"We have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action that this new young leader has taken so far since he's come to power," he said.
"There is uncertainty in the government and in their leadership," Hagel added. "That isn't the issue. The issue is we have to be prepared to defend our interests and our allies' interests and we have to be willing to defend against any possibility."
The North Korean missile program has "significant capability," he said. "We don't have any choice in defending this country."