Sen. Kelly Ayotte, seeking to position herself as an expert on missile defense issues, defended her support for a much-debated missile defense program Tuesday.
The New Hampshire Republican continues to push for the development of an East Coast missile defense site, despite the opposition of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and others.
Ayotte said that although the site could cost between $3 billion and $4 billion, it was a worthwhile expenditure even in an era of Pentagon budget cuts.
"This is something that is worthy of funding... if we can defend ourselves from missile threats, it seems to me that it should be a priority that we have," the senator said during her address, organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative.
An East Coast site, which would be the third in the United States, would "augment our missile defense against threats from Iran," she argued.
In June, Levin released correspondence he had with two senior military officers who lead American missile defense efforts. The two officers said there was "no validated military requirement" for such a site.
Ayotte pushed back at this criticism Tuesday, saying that this assessment "fails to take into account warnings by American intelligence" that suggest Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by 2015. The Pentagon previously released a report that suggests Iran could do so if they received sufficient foreign help.
Ayotte, first elected in 2010, argued that missile defense was "under-prioritized and underfunded" at a time when "the threat from ballistic missiles are growing, not shrinking."
She outlined several other steps that should be taken to strengthen the country's missile defense posture, including deploying sophisticated radars on both costs and the development of more reliable missile interceptors.
The senator further warned that the United States should not make the "same mistake with Iran that we made with North Korea."
Tim Mak Congressional Correspondent