By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 6, 2007 - The U.S. military is prepared to defend the United States and support civil authorities in ways not even thought of a decade ago, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense said to reporters at the Foreign Press Center here today. Paul McHale said that establishing the office he now holds in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was a recognition that the nature of warfare had changed.
"What we recognized was that through most of the history of the United States, in order to fundamentally threaten the national security of our country it required the resources and capabilities of a hostile nation state," McHale said.
"On September 11th it became brutally clear that in the 21st Century, with the evolution of destructive technology, the proliferation of that technology and its raw power and transportability, it no longer required the resources of a nation-state to fundamentally threaten the United States."
Small terrorist groups – or even individuals – could gain these technologies and could threaten America. The threat became different and the U.S. response also had to be different.
"In order to confront a threat that was more decentralized and less dependent on the command and control of a hostile nation-state ... in order to protect the United States we had to devise defenses that were built upon, but quite different from, defenses that had worked in the Cold War," McHale.
In 2002, the Defense Department established U.S. Northern Command to coordinate the military defense of the country, and McHale's position was created to supervise all the homeland defense activities of DoD.
"The protection of the United States in the 21st century involves much more than military power," McHale said. His office works to coordinate with another newly created entity: the Department of Homeland Security.
McHale's office helps ensure defense of the United States, and it provides military assistance to civilian agencies in the event of a catastrophic attack or natural disaster.
McHale said the various commands and departments have made America safer. He said U.S. air defense capabilities have been drastically modified since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. There are now ground-based air defenses around cities and high-value targets, he said. The air-to-air fighters "on alert, ready to destroy any aviation threat to the United States," he said.
On land, there are active duty and National Guard quick reaction forces ready to deploy in order to defeat a foreign terrorist attack, he said.
In the maritime domain, there are Navy and Coast Guard ships ready to interdict and defeat a threat. This could involve "the maritime movement of a weapon of mass destruction – a nuclear device or a dirty bomb," he said. "We are prepared to use U.S. Navy ships ... to interdict the maritime approaches to the U.S. We are prepared and train to that mission everyday."
But if the defense fails and a terrorist manages to attack the United States, the office has a mission of providing civil support. The Defense Department could provide manpower, expertise and help to civilian agencies coping with the aftermath of such an attack, McHale said.
Communications, equipment, trained manpower, imagery, air assets, there are any number of military capabilities that could help. And it is not limited to an attack. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. military helped bring order to an overwhelming humanitarian disaster.
Overall, the nation is in much better shape to defend itself than before September 11, 2001, McHale said. "In terms of physical defense of the United States and our ability to respond, we have many more military personnel with much better equipment, on much shorter alert, task-organized and ready to respond in a way that we did not envision a half-decade ago," McHale said.