Better Domain Awareness
by Todd Lopez, DOD News
July 25, 2022
The U.S. Northern Command is responsible
for protecting the U.S. homeland. Domain awareness is a major part
of defense, and it's in President Biden's 2023 budget request
currently before Congress.
"What ... challenges us is the
unknown," Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, the commander for U.S.
Northern Command, said while speaking at the Aspen Security
Conference in Colorado on Thursday. "What I mean by the unknown is
domain awareness challenges. The first one I would tell you is
undersea domain awareness. As competitors develop capabilities, the
challenges of monitoring submarines in the future will only grow."
Domain awareness challenges also exist for hypersonic cruise
missiles and cyber domain awareness as well, VanHerck said.
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon, assigned to Ohio
National Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, flies over the
flightline before landing at Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, during U.S. Northern Command
Exercise Arctic Edge 22 on March 14, 2022. (Image created by
USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt.
Kregg York, Air National Guard.)
"The good news is we're working to fix this," he said. "And the
department did a fantastic job in the budget this year — the
president's budget for domain awareness," he said. "There's four
over-the-horizon radars in the budget, so I look forward to that."
As for North American Aerospace Defense Command modernization,
VanHerck said Canadian Minister of National Defense Anita Anand
recently announced plans for new over-the-horizon radar systems that
will provide better domain awareness when it comes to tracking
threats from the Arctic Circle all the way down to the border
between the U.S. and Canada.
Also in the 2023 budget
proposal, VanHerck said, is additional capability for undersea
domain awareness in the Navy.
Clearance divers from Fleet Diving Unit-Pacific and port inspection divers from the Royal Canadian Navy conduct mine countermeasure missions during U.S. Northern Command Exercise Arctic Edge 22 near Juneau, Alaska
on March 8, 2022. (Royal Canadian Navy photo by Master Sailor Dan Bard)
"I'm very encouraged with where we're
going, but we still have some challenges to work on," he said.
Another aspect of domain awareness and allowing Northcom to stay
on top of threats posed to the U.S. involves better use of
artificial intelligence and machine learning, VanHerck said.
"We need to go faster in developing these capabilities," he said.
"When you have information and data, the question is 'how are you
going to process that and disseminate it in a timely manner?'"
Accurately processing information from sensors provides
intelligence that allows leaders, such as the president, to make
important decisions regarding the defense of the United States,
"What I'm trying to do is create decision
space; decision space equals deterrence options," he said. "The way
you do that is through analyzing that data and information ... that
domain awareness data ... through the use of machine learning and
artificial intelligence. The machines can count numbers of cars in
parking lots, numbers of vehicles in weapons loading areas, and
alert you to changes. Today, oftentimes, we don't use the machines
to analyze that data in a timely manner. So, I do think we can go
The Defense Department has characterized China
as a "pacing threat." Right now, the threat from China may not be as
immediate as it seems, though the threat is growing, VanHerck said.
"Let me just say first, we have the most powerful military on
the planet," VanHerck said. "But the Chinese want to displace us.
And they're on a path to gain significant capability."
U.S. Marines consolidate after a raid on a long-range radar
site during U.S. Northern Command Exercise Arctic Edge 20 at
Fort Greely, Alaska on February 27, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps
photo by Lance Cpl. Jose Gonzalez)
VanHerck, who also commands NORAD, said
evidence of China's military advances include growth of both their
nuclear and conventional forces, including hypersonic technologies.
"They're on a path to approach a peer status with us," VanHerck said.
now also identified as an "acute threat" by the United States. And
while it appears Russian efforts in Ukraine have not yet panned out
the way U.S. defense leaders believe Moscow might have hoped,
VanHerck said the threat Russia poses should not be dismissed.
"I don't want to say that ... Russia has failed," he said.
"They've struggled in the land domain. What I would tell you is in
their conventional capabilities, their long-range standoff
capabilities, they're displaying significant capability. That's the
threat that I worry about to the homeland. So, I would not undersell
Russia, and I would not say China is 10 feet tall right now, but
they do certainly have aspirations to compete at a peer level with
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