The US Northern Command is responsible for protecting the US homeland. Domain awareness is an important part of defense, and it is included in President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal, which is currently before Congress.
“What … challenges us is the unknown,” Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said during a speech at the Aspen Security Conference in Colorado on Thursday. “What I mean by the unknown are the challenges of domain consciousness. The first one I want to tell you is the underwater domain consciousness. As competitors develop capabilities, the challenges of patrolling submarines will only increase in the future.”
Domain awareness challenges also exist for hypersonic cruise missiles and cyber domain awareness, VanHerck said.
“The good news is that we are working to fix this,” he said. “And the department did a fantastic job on the budget this year — the president’s budget for domain awareness,” he said. “There are four over-the-horizon radars in the budget, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Regarding the modernization of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, VanHerck said Canadian Secretary of Defense Anita Anand recently announced plans for new over-the-horizon radar systems that will offer better domain awareness when it comes to threats from the Arctic Circle down traceable to the US-Canada border.
Also included in the 2023 budget proposal, VanHerck said, are additional capabilities for naval awareness of underwater domains.
“I’m very encouraged by where we’re going, but we still have some challenges that we need to work on,” he said.
Another aspect of domain awareness and the ability for Northcom to stay on top of US threats involves making better use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, VanHerck said.
“We need to develop these skills faster,” he said. “Once you have information and data, how are you going to process it and disseminate it in a timely manner?”
Accurately processing information from sensors provides information that allows leaders like the president to make important decisions regarding the defense of the United States, VanHerck said.
“What I’m trying to do is create decision spaces; Decision spaces are deterrents,” he said. “The way you do that is by analyzing that data and that information — that domain awareness data — through the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The machines can count the number of cars in parking lots, the number of vehicles in weapon loading areas and warn you of any changes. Nowadays, we often don’t use the machines to analyze this data in a timely manner. So I think we can move faster there.”
The Ministry of Defense has described China as a “pacing threat”. For now, although the threat is growing, the threat from China may not be as imminent as it seems, VanHerck said.
“Let me start by saying that we have the strongest military in the world,” VanHerck said. “But the Chinese want to oust us. And they are on the way to gaining significant skills.”
VanHerck, who also commands NORAD, said evidence of China’s military advances is the growth of both its nuclear and conventional armed forces, including hypersonic technologies.
“They are moving towards peer status with us,” said VanHerck.
Russia is now also classified by the USA as an “imminent threat”. And while it appears that Russia’s efforts in Ukraine have not yet gone in the way US defense leaders believe Moscow might have hoped, VanHerck said the threat Russia poses cannot be dismissed out of hand should.
“I don’t want to say that … Russia failed,” he said. “They fought in the land area. What I would tell you is their conventional skills, their ranged skills, they show considerable skill. That’s the threat I’m concerned about for the homeland. So, I wouldn’t undercut Russia, and I wouldn’t say China is 10ft at the moment, but they certainly have aspirations to compete with us on an equal footing.