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Northcom Wants Industry Partnerships to Advance Tech Capability

July 31, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez
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While the U.S. military is still a technology leader in a lot of respects, the private sector has surpassed it in many ways, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said.

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 23, Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy told a conference on public-private partnerships how he's seen the Defense Department's technology dominance change.

As the commander of an air operations center in Hawaii in 2009, he said, he'd bring civilian counterparts in to see the technology the Air Force was using at the time.

Two men walk across a concrete landing pad and approach a tilt-rotor aircraft.
Damage Assessment
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, discusses the route and intent of a damage assessment overflight with a Marine Corps aircrew member prior to boarding a MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Cherry Point, N.C., Sept. 19, 2018.
Photo By: Air Force
VIRIN: 180919-F-ZZ999-143C

"They would just be amazed at our capability," O'Shaughnessy said. "Amazed at our domain awareness, amazed at the computers and the screens and everything that we had."

Now, he said, it's a little different. They're still amazed, he said, but for the wrong reasons.

"It's like, 'That's what you got?' It's not so much that we haven't advanced — because we have. We have some great systems," he said. "But the commercial world has just leapt forward, and they've gone at a pace that we have not been able to do within our own command-and-control structures within the military."

O'Shaughnessy said that what he really wants is industry's help to catch up.

Three men stand in a darkened room, lit with blue light. One holds a hand-held microphone to his mouth.
Hurricane Operations
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, addresses the crew of the USS Kearsarge in Cherry Point, N.C., to thank the sailors and Marines conducting lifesaving operations in the Carolinas following Hurricane Florence, Sept. 19, 2018.
Photo By: Air Force
VIRIN: 180919-F-ZZ999-365C

"More and more, we're counting on the commercial world," he said. "For all of you out there that represent companies that have done some great investment, we're looking to partner with you and find ways that we can leverage your advancements, to help our cause, not only in the broader Department of Defense efforts, but also specifically as we apply that capability here in the homeland."

In a statement from Northcom, O'Shaughnessy said NORAD and Northcom are committed to working with civilian industry to find solutions that better enable it to detect, defeat and deter enemies, including detection technology for hypersonic cruise and ballistic missiles. Additionally, he said, the newest submarines now have a much greater ability to evade military sensors, and help there also would be welcome.

A man in a military uniform sits in the rear of an aircraft. He is wearing headphones. The tail of the aircraft is open.
Aerospace Defense
Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, conducts a damage assessment overflight of North Carolina in a Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft, Sept. 19, 2018.
Photo By: Air Force
VIRIN: 180919-F-ZZ999-407C

Today, O'Shaughnessy said, the private sector has greatly increased its expenditures on research and development, and their efforts can help the U.S. military improve its own capability to detect threats.

"We want to leverage these advancements to provide improved capabilities to our forces, and at quicker cycles than our current acquisitions process," he said. "With Russia and China attempting to hold us at risk and achieving parity with our capabilities, we need strong public-private partnerships to ensure we maintain our strategic advantage."

A service member, in silhouette, paces under an arch. He is carrying a weapon. Outside, snow is on the ground.
Cheyenne Mountain
Air Force Senior Airman Ricardo Collie, 721st Security Forces Squadron, patrols the north gate of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, Colo., Jan. 7, 2016.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee
VIRIN: 160107-F-NL936-365C

O'Shaughnessy said NORAD and Northcom maintain connections with industry and academia at conferences, during exercises and at educational and other forums. But he also said those with tools they think might be able to contribute to the national defense can also initiate a partnership with NORAD and Northcom through its Private Sector Office within its Requirements, Analysis and Resources Directorate.

"Homeland defense is a team endeavor," he said. "Public-private partnerships are critical to ensure we are on the leading edge of technology and help us expand the competitive space [and to] discover and explore new ideas."