The strength of the United States originates at home. Our values, work ethic, ingenuity and geographic location have paved the way for America to flourish. Correspondingly, the strength of our military also starts in the homeland.
Throughout the Cold War, our military strategy largely relied on a persistent forward military presence, reflected in a robust network of forward bases, airfields, ports and railheads. The United States also enjoyed largely uncontested power projection capabilities to facilitate forward military operations.
Today, however, more than 85 percent of American service members are stationed in the United States, greatly elevating the importance of America’s critical infrastructure, including national highways, rails, seaports and airports, to enable global power projection. Our nation’s ability to quickly mobilize and deploy our military worldwide is a strategic advantage that underwrites the credibility of our military strength.
Over the past two decades, strategic competitors have observed our preferred way of conducting military operations — the away game through deliberate power projection from the homeland — and they have invested heavily in capabilities to hold our homeland at risk in order to delay or disrupt military force flow or to destroy the will of the people. Today, our competitors possess the means to strike critical infrastructure in the homeland with advanced kinetic capabilities such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, hypersonic missiles, and sea- and air-launched advanced cruise missiles, while also possessing robust non-kinetic cyber and information capabilities. Beyond their current nuclear capabilities, on their current trajectories, both Russia and China will possess the conventional capabilities, across multiple domains, to present a persistent, proximate threat to North America. If left unresolved, these could place power projection capabilities at risk, resulting in the U.S. military being forced to “fight to get to the fight.”
President Joe Biden’s budget request for fiscal year 2023 intends to counter our competitors’ capabilities by advancing priorities such as integrated deterrence and campaigning, which are critical to our commands’ success in defending the homeland and maintaining our strategic advantage. To deter our competitors or defeat potential adversaries we must first be able to detect potential threats, so the budget also requests funding for domain awareness and missile warning capabilities such as Over-the-Horizon Radar and surveillance systems such as the Navy’s Fixed Surveillance System and the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System, the Long Range Discrimination Radar in Alaska and the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared Radar.
The recently released National Defense Strategy highlights defense of the homeland as its first priority. In defense of the homeland, we will increase credible deterrence options below the nuclear threshold through integrated deterrence using a whole-of-government solution, applying all levers of influence executed globally across all domains and in coordination with fellow combatant commands, allies and partners. Successful integrated deterrence sets conditions for global campaigning in order to remain in competition and avoid crisis and conflict. It relies on the active and credible demonstration and messaging of will, capability, resiliency and readiness to deter, deny and, if necessary, defeat adversaries. The NDS also underscores the strategic importance of ensuring logistical support to operational missions worldwide while preserving the ability to mobilize and deploy service members to a forward fight.
Most recently, the unprovoked and irresponsible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, along with warnings Russia is actively exploring options for potential cyberattacks in our homeland, has elevated U.S. critical infrastructure vulnerabilities into the daily narrative. While many saw last summer’s Colonial Pipeline cyberattack as a wake up call, the reality is that our nation’s critical infrastructure is constantly under attack in the cyber domain and the threat is not diminishing.
The FY23 budget submission, which seeks $11 billion to protect our networks and develop a cyber mission force, could not come at a better time. As a nation, we must have the resilience to operate through threats in every domain if we are to maintain our ability to surge combat credible forces from the homeland to distant theaters and ensure options and decision space remain available to senior leaders.
When it comes to protecting the homeland and our global security interests, many overlook or lack understanding of the critical roles that U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Transportation Command, as well as North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, play in securing our nation and North America as a whole, ensuring the United States and Canada can defend against any adversary. Our three commands share a unique and symbiotic relationship as we collaborate to help maintain the viability of critical infrastructure required to defend the homelands and project military might.
The U.S. must be postured to defend designated critical infrastructure against the full spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic threats. In pursuit of this end, USNORTHCOM and USTRANSCOM in concert with NORAD are working in close coordination with the Joint Staff and Department of Defense to inform a wider, whole-of-government effort to identify and codify key federal, state and local government and private sector critical infrastructure across the country that must be defended. This includes the defense industrial base and civilian infrastructure sectors such as energy, water, financial systems, transportation and transportation nodes. Of equal importance is ensuring critical infrastructure is resilient, maintains redundancy, or is hardened in order to seed doubt in the minds of potential competitors that any attack on our homeland could be successful.
The cooperative efforts between USNORTHCOM and USTRANSCOM as part of our nation’s larger integrated deterrence efforts, complemented with NORAD’s contributions in defense of North America, have never been more vital. The stakes are higher now than they have been in decades. For NORAD, USNORTHCOM and USTRANSCOM, failure is not an option.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck is the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and of U.S. Northern Command, headquartered at Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and is a command pilot with more than 3,200 flight hours in more than a dozen aircraft.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost is the commander of U.S. Transportation Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. She is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and a command pilot with more than 4,200 hours in more than 30 aircraft.
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