Hagel's comments came during a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' annual conference in Singapore, and just a week before President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with China's President Xi Jinping, The New York Times reported.
Hagel said the United States would keep its "decisive military edge" in Asia and the Pacific and deploy "an affordable answer" to counter "threats like missiles, swarming small boats and remotely piloted aircraft."
Hagel promised New technology would be sent to the area, including a solid-state laser aboard the naval vessel called the Ponce, which will arrive next year.
During a question-and-answer segment after Hagel's speech, a Chinese delegate to the conference said China was not convinced that the United States wanted a "comprehensive" relationship with China.
Hagel responded by saying the United States wanted more transparency in military dealings with China.
"You have to talk to each other, be direct with each other, be inclusive," he said.