By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 16, 2009 - Anticipation is the key to readiness, the chief of the combatant command responsible for the military role in homeland defense said today. Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said that when he took over the reins more than two years ago, he modified the Northcom mission statement to reflect this notion.
"When I took command, I added one word to the mission statement, and it was 'anticipate,'" Renuart told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. "And it forces you to think differently about planning, preparation and prevention. It forces you to think about resiliency."
Northcom, which was established about a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is responsible for an area of operations that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico. It serves as a "one-stop-shopping" point for military support in case of an attack on American soil.
NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canadian command established 51 years ago to defend against nuclear-armed Soviet aircraft entering North American airspace. Decades later, the command's mission has expanded to include early detection of threats via air, space, land and sea.
Reflecting NORAD's level of anticipation is the number of flights the command identified as suspicious and responded to last year. It cited 278 aircraft as "targets of interest," so-called because a pilot fails to communicate or use proper transponder codes, follows a flight plan incorrectly, or behaves in some way to cause concern.
"On September 10, 2001, we didn't necessarily have that same focus and we certainly didn't have the capacity to respond across the nation in the way we have today," Renuart said.
During 78 of those instances, NORAD scrambled fighter jets to respond to or intercept the suspicious aircraft. About 50 of these flights were diverted to alternate air fields, where the pilots were greeted by law enforcement agents.
One infamous case this year was that of Adam Dylan Leon, a 30-year-old Canadian who hijacked a Cessna 172 from a flight school in Ontario and flew across the midwestern United States in hopes of provoking NORAD responders to shoot him down in an attempted suicide, officials said.
"Certainly, we have that capability (to shoot down aircraft), and each of our fighters is armed every day when they fly," Renuart said. "But we also have a process of command and control and communication and coordination that allows us to learn a lot about that person as this event is occurring."
The sheer number of participants speaks to NORAD's level of preparation and coordination. Teaming up to deal with the stolen Canadian flight were American and Canadian NORAD agents, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Transportation Security Administration, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, NAV Canada, the White House, U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and oddly enough, the pilot's ex-girlfriend.
"We were able to have this dialogue while this event was occurring, while we had fighters -- and by the way while we had customs and border patrol -- shadowing this guy as he continued south," Renuart said, noting that the pilot landed safely on a small road in southern Missouri.
"Interestingly, when he landed, I was talking on this conference to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police hostage negotiators, who were with this guy's ex-girlfriend, who was texting him on his cell phone to say, 'Land safely. Don't go anywhere. Someone will be there,'" Renuart said, adding that the command then handed off control to local authorities.
The general emphasized that his commands fastidiously adhere to the rules outlined in the Posse Comitatus Act, a federal law that restricts the government from using the military for law enforcement.
"There are some who believe that somehow we have created this command to exercise military authority in the homeland, and that is not the case," he said. "Trust me, I've got about 16 lawyers that follow me around everyday just to make sure I don't trip over that line.
"The art form in this is to ensure that you can be leaning on the edge of that precipice to provide the right support," he continued, "but not trip off and invade the rights and safeties that are guaranteed by our Constitution to our civilians."