Guard, Reserve Cited For Improved Homeland Defense Capabilities
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 3, 2004 Despite great progress and improvements in the nation's defenses against another terrorist attack, "we are not comfortable -- we are not satisfied," the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense told a House subcommittee here April 29.
Paul McHale, testifying before a subcommittee looking into ways of transforming the National Guard, emphasized that the Pentagon is "dedicated with a real sense of urgency to ever-improving homeland defense capabilities."
However, improving those capabilities so far has come at the expense of thousands of National Guard and Reserve members, he said.
McHale's statement assessed the nation's homeland defense capability and addressed DoD's new mission requirements, particularly those of National Guard and Reserve components that have been expanded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
He told the committee that protection of critical infrastructure will likely become a "core National Guard mission" during the next decade. And he said the Defense Department is working closely with the National Guard Bureau to ensure Army Guard forces will be "mission ready" to provide immediate land security forces within their own states. The National Guard also has been given the task of supporting civilian authorities following a terrorist attack, he said.
Last fall, the Defense Department established 32 National Guard weapons of mass destruction civil support teams, with 12 new teams to be created this year, "sufficient to ensure that every state and territory will be served by a team," he said.
He told the committee that if a more substantial WMD response is required, the department has established, equipped and organized large joint task forces to be disbursed to locations throughout the United States. The joint task forces, McHale added, will enable the United States to sufficiently "respond to multiple, near simultaneous terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction."
McHale noted several achievements by National Guard and reservists. Guard and Reserve pilots assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, he said, logged thousands of hours patrolling the airspace over Canada and the United States, flying more than 34,000 air defense sorties and responding to more than 1,700 requests from the Federal Aviation Administration to intercept potential air threats.
"That is an extraordinary achievement," he added. He also noted that in fiscal 2004, the Air National Guard flew 1,909 sorties and logged 6,926 hours guarding the nation's skies. "This level of air security is unprecedented in our nation's history," he said.
As an added level of standard training, he said, nearly every homeland defense exercise conducted now includes a threat scenario involving a terrorist takeover of a commercial airliner. Such exercises, he said have resulted in air defense training that is "realistic, focused and subject to well understood rules of engagement."
McHale also address improvements in land and maritime defense capabilities.
He said there are now active duty soldiers and Marines on alert "every hour of every day" prepared to deploy to any location within the United States.
"Such quick reaction forces did not exist on Sept. 11, 2001," he said. "They do now, and they are both trained and ready."
He said the goal for the nation's maritime defense is to defeat "every enemy maritime threat with an integrated layered defense, long before such threats are able to enter our ports."
McHale said defending the nation's ports and waterways will require real-time tracking of threat vessels and ships, as well as resources to support maritime intercept operations on the high seas against terrorists potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction.
DoD's plan of action, McHale said, makes it clear the department is "fully committed to the most capable homeland defense ever planned or executed in U.S. history."