Northcom Prioritizes Homeland Defense, Cyber, Partners
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2012 Priorities for U.S. Northern Command include expanding partnerships, keeping eyes on air, space, cyberspace, land and sea domains, and outpacing all threats, the Northcom and the North American Aerospace Defense Command commander said today.
Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, Jr., testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the fiscal 2013 defense budget request for the first time as Northcom commander. Northcom was established after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to defend the homeland and help civil authorities respond to natural and other disasters. Its area of responsibility includes Canada and Mexico.
Jacoby said his priorities include advancing and sustaining the U.S.-Canada partnership of NORAD, monitoring the unique and fast-changing domain of the Arctic, and taking care of the men and women of Northcom.
“This past year has been busy. We've synchronized our activities with many partners and done our part to realize efficiencies that we've worked through the budget process,” Jacoby told the senators.
As part of the budget, he said, Northcom trimmed its workforce by 141 full-time positions this year, and for fiscal 2013 has requested reducing its operations and maintenance funding by about 6 percent.
“But with the resources and authorities at hand and maintaining our vigilance,” the general added, “we'll be able to continue to defend and support the American people.”
Outside its primary homeland defense mission, some of Northcom’s most immediate concerns include cyber security, transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States from the border with Mexico, and security issues that arise from the predicted melting of Arctic sea ice, opening parts of the Arctic over the next decade to human activity.
Northcom’s main responsibility in the cyber domain, Jacoby said, “is consequence management in the event of a catastrophic cyber attack on this country. Northcom could certainly be called upon to provide support to civil authorities in the recovery. But we think our role is broader than that.”
Northcom has “some work to do in defining what [constitutes] an attack in the cyber domain,” he said. “It's a very collaborative process we're doing as combatant commanders along with [the U.S. Strategic Command] and its … Cyber Command. That's a work in progress.”
Jacoby said he believes “it will be a matter of policy to clearly define what is an attack or what isn't an attack,” and he hopes such a policy can be put in place over the next year.
Until then, Jacoby said, he continues to work closely with Cyber Command commander Army Gen. Keith Alexander “to ensure that we have ample warning to understand if there is a cyberattack or malicious cyber activity that … could compromise the defense of the homeland.”
To achieve that end, Jacoby said, Northcom has good cooperation across DOD and with partners in the Department of Homeland Security.
Some aspects of transnational organized crime are another priority for Northcom. President Barack Obama in July released a strategy for combating such crime, and Northcom and the U.S. Southern Command are the main entities through which the Defense Department engages in the Western Hemisphere.
The mandate increases as more nations ask their own militaries to take on internal security responsibilities, Jacoby said.
“What we do on the border [with Mexico] as the Department of Defense is to provide support to the lead agencies -- the Department of Homeland Security, primarily, and the Justice Department's organizations, as well,” he said. “We're eager to provide that support.”
Partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection gives soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines good training opportunities, he added.
“It is a great relationship that's grown stronger and stronger over time,” Jacoby said. “Just this month, we've conducted Op[eration] Nimbus II in the Tucson sector, where 1st Armored Division soldiers feel they got better training than they've gotten prior to a deployment at any time in the past 10 years.”
In that operation, more than 500 soldiers from Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas supported the U.S. Border Patrol with intelligence and surveillance assistance.
“I think it's critical to continue to strengthen and expand our partnerships in the Northcom headquarters,” Jacoby said. “We have over 32 agencies represented there and eight law enforcement agencies. We've never had better sharing of information across the interagency.”
Thousands of miles north, the Arctic is becoming an emerging an area of interest for Northcom.
The Navy's Task Force Climate Change and U.S. science agencies have predicted that by 2020 or so, commercial ships may be able to transit the Arctic, where sea ice is in long-term decline.
The region’s more than 1,000 miles of coastline and potential sovereign rights to several hundred thousand square miles of ocean gives the United States a strong national security and homeland defense interest there.
“We have an opportunity, while we watch the Arctic begin to open up, to get ahead of potential security requirements,” Jacoby told the senators.
To that end, he added, Northcom’s strategic framework is to work closely with the Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and other partners in the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and stay closely tied to partners in Canada.
Jacoby said the Defense Department supports the Convention of the Law of the Sea because it would give the United States a role in long-term negotiations that will involve the Arctic and its resources.
In 2004, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended U.S. accession to the treaty in a unanimous vote, but a vote of the entire Senate has not yet taken place. The United States has signed, but not ratified the treaty.
“As the commander responsible for the Arctic,” Jacoby said, “ … it would be very helpful to have a seat at the table as we begin the lengthy … process of determining [the boundaries of the] Continental Shelf and all the attributes of the Arctic that competing nations will be interested in.”