By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 19, 2013 – “We have the watch,” the commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command told Congress today, emphasizing the dual commands’ vigilance in protecting the homeland.
“That’s my No. 1 priority mission,” Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. told the Senate Armed Services Committee, while acknowledging concerns that budget uncertainties could hamper the commands’ ability to step ahead of evolving threats.
Jacoby reported on successes of Operation Noble Eagle, a mission stood up immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that continues today, providing “well-honed and uncompromising 24/7 defense of our skies.”
But the security environment is becoming “increasingly complex and dynamic,” he warned. “Threats are adapting and evolving. Technologies advance and proliferate, creating greater vulnerability in the homeland than ever before.”
This complicates the homeland defense mission, he said, from cyber and ballistic missile defense to efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations.
Budget uncertainties add another wrinkle, he said, injecting additional uncertainties in what capabilities can be developed or procured to deal with these threats.
“Readiness concerns are sure to grow,” Jacoby said. The most pressing, he said, will be unforecasted cuts to training and exercise programs that he called “fundamental to building partnerships essential for responding to events in the homeland.”
“Unexpected loss of service capabilities and readiness could also, in the future, erode our ability to conduct our critical homeland defense missions,” he said.
In the midst of these uncertainties, Northcom and NORAD will remain committed to deterring, preventing and defeating aggression against the United States and Canada, Jacoby said.
Meanwhile, Northcom also continues to focus on its mission of providing defense support to civil authorities, as required.
“Our citizens have a high expectation of our ability to defend and support them here in the homeland, and rightfully so,” Jacoby told the Senate panel. “In the event of a natural or manmade disaster, Northcom meets those expectations by leveraging a tremendous capability and capacity of the Defense Department to support a lead agency,” such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Jacoby recognized Northcom’s role in interagency response to Hurricane Sandy. “Hurricane Sandy offered us a glimpse of what a complex catastrophe which spanned several states and regions could look like,” he said.
Jacoby called the appointment of dual-status commanders during the response one of the most important initiatives in the area of defense support to civil authorities in a decade that promotes a unity of effort among federal and state responders.
He pledged to continue maturing the successful dual-status command construct that Congress approved through the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act “so we will be ready to act swiftly and with unity of effort when the unthinkable happens and we are called.”
In addition, he vowed to continue advancing security cooperation efforts with Mexico and the Bahamas. These efforts help the United States and its neighbors stand as a united force against their common goals, he said.
“When it comes to the security of North America and the shared pursuit of enduring stability and prosperity, we cannot afford to work in isolation,” Jacoby said in his prepared statement.