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News   Lethality

Northcom Commander Cites Arctic as Area of Concern

July 23, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez
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Increased activity in the Arctic is a concern for national security and for U.S. Northern Command, the officer in charge of North American security said.

Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and Northcom, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington about the role both agencies play in homeland defense.

While he embraces cooperation in the Arctic, O'Shaughnessy said, care must be taken not to let potential adversaries take advantage of that cooperation. "The rules-based international order [that's] alive and well in the rest of the world has to be applied with that same template in the Arctic," he said.

As avenues of navigation open in the Arctic region, so to do avenues of approach to the United States, O'Shaughnessy noted, so the United States, and Northcom in particular, must remain vigilant and prepared.

Eerie green lights streak across a dark sky.
Northern Lights
The Northern Lights can be seen above Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 11, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Yanez
VIRIN: 160311-N-SG283-002

"The Arctic is not just a place you can pick up and go to," he said. Unlike the tropical, temperate or desert environments where the U.S. military typically operates, the Arctic region requires specialized training and gear. Northcom is working with the services on how they operate and exercise in the Arctic, the general said.

Turning to missile defense, O'Shaughnessy said defense against cruise missiles is something that needs more attention.

"The overall push to emphasize cruise missile defense is something that is gaining some traction," he said.

He noted that discussion of ballistic missile defense is common, and the United States spends as much as $12 billion a year on ballistic missile defense. There's also growing discussion on defense against hypersonic weapons, he said.

"But surprisingly, there is not that much conversation about cruise missiles," he told the audience. "When I look at the cruise missile threat, I see that as one of the biggest threats we face."

A submarine is surfaced near a large sheet of ice. Snow is piled up on top of the submarine.
USS Hartford
The submarine USS Hartford surfaces near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 19, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Thompson
VIRIN: 160319-N-QA919-540
A tiny military camp is surrounded by a vast expanse of snow.
Camp Sargo
Camp Sargo housed participants of Ice Exercise 2016, a five-week exercise designed to research, test and evaluate operational capabilities in the Arctic Circle.
Photo By: Adam Bell, Navy
VIRIN: 160324-N-ZZ999-108

But the cost of defense against cruise missiles — missiles that are guided and which fly within the atmosphere — is high, he acknowledged. Interceptors for cruise missiles cost more than the inbound missiles, he said, and the United States must "find a way that we can have a deep magazine with a high rate of fire."

Officials  must find a way to "flip the cost curve on cruise missile defense," he added, and as the cost for defense against cruise missiles is lowered, he said, the United States must be able to defend larger areas against them.

The nation must develop a "defeat mechanism" that can grow from just a point defense capability to a broader area defense capability, he added, and ultimately have it at a cost that would allow setting up a system that would be national.

A man’s face is almost obscured by winter clothing and a snow-dusted mask.
Standing Watch
Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Wendler, warfare development officer, Submarine Force Atlantic, stands watch during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 19, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Thompson
VIRIN: 160319-N-QA919-698

In addition, O'Shaughnessy said, increased domain awareness and development of an architecture that can tie tighter an array of sensors are priorities for NORAD and Northcom.

"We have to advance from these stovepipe systems to this broad-level architecture ... that's clearly joint," he said. "It's got to be coalition. It has to be able to ingest all of the various sensors we have out there and be able to bring it to a command and control capability."