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Northcom’s First Priority is ‘No-Fail’ Homeland Defense, Commander Says

By Cheryl Pellerin DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 11, 2016 — Homeland defense is the first priority of U.S. Northern Command, Navy Adm. William E. Gortney told members of the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.

Gortney wears two hats as commander of Northcom and of North American Aerospace Defense Command, both headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The admiral testified before the panel on how the fiscal year 2017 DoD budget request impacts Northcom and NORAD. He also discussed command operations.

Homeland defense, the admiral told the panel, “is a no-fail mission and it's just as important today as when NORAD and Northcom were established, with one single commander responsible for the defense of our homeland through the many domains of air, space, maritime, land and cyber.”

Within cybersecurity, he added, Northcom’s responsibility is to defend its own networks.

Terrorist, Criminal Threats

Gortney named the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and whatever form it takes in the future, and transnational organized criminals who move drugs, people, weapons and anything else that will turn a profit as the most dangerous and likely threats to the nation.

Terrorist organizations and global criminal networks exploit what the admiral calls “seams” between nations in North, Central and South America; seams between the government agencies of those nations; and seams created by inadequate authorities, resources and training of many of the same agencies.

“And yes,” he added, “seams created by the geographic boundaries of our combatant command structure, seams for which [Navy Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command] and I are accountable to close while we work the military-to-military effort or our nation's whole-of-government approach to the many shared challenges within North, Central and South America.”

Today's evolving and resurgent threats are a function of the return to great power competition and the continuing threat of global terrorism, Gortney said.

Evolving Threats

These threats, he said, create vulnerabilities best mitigated through an integrated and binational approach across multiple domains that requires an integrated defense in the air, in space, on and under the sea and on land domains.

As a result, he said, “together NORAD and Northcom have evolved well past our Cold War and 9/11 origins and are today inseparable.”

The commands work seamlessly together to defend the homeland in the air through NORAD and the remaining domains through Northcom, facing the traditional and nontraditional threats in our assigned battle space, Gortney said.

NORAD and Northcom are focused on unity of command and effort, he said, two commands but a single integrated headquarters, organized and trained to face the diverse array of evolving national security threats.

Traditional, Nontraditional Threats

Traditional military threats now exist created by the return of great power competition as illustrated by the recent actions of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, Gortney said.

Regarding nontraditional threats, the admiral said his main concerns involve homegrown violent extremists who are self-radicalized and don’t actively communicate with ISIL.

“To counter this threat I'm a support team commander to the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the many law enforcement agencies engaged in this crucial fight,” Gortney explained.

“These extremists are targeting soft Department of Defense [targets],” he said, “Department of Defense personnel and facilities and our own fellow citizens. This is what occurred in Chattanooga on a DoD facility and in San Bernardino against our nation's civilian population.”

Close Partners

As the commander accountable for setting the force protection condition of DoD facilities in the continental United States, Gortney said, Northcom works closely with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps “to balance the enduring nature of this threat with the services' ability to complete the many missions they have here in the homeland.”

Homeland partnerships also enable Northcom-NORAD success, he said.

Northcom partners continuously with the interagency, the admiral said. Partners include National Guard airmen and soldiers, the intelligence community, law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security, which is Northcom’s closest partner, he said.

“Our mission partners maintain nearly 60 liaison officers in our headquarters and these patriots are fully embedded in … our intel organization,” Gortney said, noting that building partnership capacity is vital to Northcom’s mission.

At Northcom, he added, 70 percent of major exercises -- involving nearly 200 each year -- are focused on mission partners as the primary target audience.

“We call this state-of-security cooperation within the homeland. This is Northcom supporting our mission partners and our mission partners supporting us,” Gortney said, “which is why we view these homeland partnerships as our center of gravity.”

(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)