Watch the video or read the transcript of Gen. James H. Dickinson, U.S. Space Command boss; Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, take part in the “Defending the Homeland” session from AFA’s 2021 virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium, moderated by retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies: “Well, as anybody reading news headlines knows, the U.S. faces a range of threats to our homeland, not least of which is a raging pandemic that continues to devastate our country. Looking abroad, the new long-range conventional strike weapons under development by America’s peer competitors pose a severe challenge to America’s defenses. Aggressive moves by China and Russia to seize territory and destabilize our allies and partners menace our collective security. These actions underscore the vulnerability of elements of our defense that we once took for granted. Our ability to leverage existing and emerging technologies and work collaboratively with our allies and partners will go a long way to determining our ability to anticipate and respond to threats to our homeland. So with that as context, let me introduce our panelists. As the commander of U.S. Northern Command, and North American Aerospace Defense Command, Gen. Glen VanHerck leads to departments with primary responsibility for homeland defense and aerospace warning. Prior to assuming this role, Gen. VanHerck served in multiple leadership positions, including director of the Joint Staff. Gen. James Dickinson is the commander of U.S. Space Command, the 11th and most recently established unified combatant command. Gen. Dickinson has had a lengthy career in Army artillery and air defense, and has previously served as commanding general of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. Welcome, gentlemen. It’s a real pleasure and a privilege to have you join us today, and I’d like to start by giving Gen. VanHerck the floor, followed by Gen. Dickinson, for a summary of your thoughts on meeting the challenges of defending our homeland and a way of life.”
Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command: “Well, Gen. Deptula, thanks. It’s an honor to be here with you today. Thank you to the Mitchell Institute as well, and the Air Force Association for putting this on. It’s a great opportunity to talk about homeland defense, candidly, it’s something we don’t talk about enough, that’s dramatically changed in the last five to 10 years. And so I look forward to talking about that with you. You mentioned a complex environment. Absolutely it’s a complex environment, the most complex I think we’ve ever seen. You talked about that. What I would tell you is, two peers we’ve never had, really, two peers. Two nuclear-armed peers. One with significant capabilities to strike the homeland now, and one with intent to absolutely develop capabilities to strike the homeland in the near future. And so, let me talk about that. Quickly, first, I would say we’re challenged across all domains, and I’ll let Gen. Dickinson talk to you about the space. I’ll talk more, but what makes this problem even more dynamic and interesting is how interwoven we are economically, especially with China, and the challenges that presents for us as a nation.
“So let me give you a little bit of a take on how I view the battlespace, if you will, and the threat to the homeland. Since the [Berlin] wall fell 30 years ago or so, and we’ve really been focused on fighting forward. We’ve developed capability strategies, plans, all with the assumption that assume forward power projection was a given pretty much, and it has been. We’ve had a unipolar world, with the United States really as the single sole superpower, if you will, but that is changing right now. While we’ve been projecting power forward, our competitors, primarily China and Russia, have watched that and they’ve taken notes on how we are able to project power and military influence around the globe. They realize they don’t want to fight that fight on their terrain, in their battle space. And so they’ve developed capabilities to hold the homeland at risk, with the idea that they’ll destroy our will to fight, they’ll limit our ability to project power forward from the homeland, so that in a regional fight they can get that objective accomplished before we can get ourselves into the original fight. Some would question that, I would tell you in discussions this week with the intel community, I’m even more convinced that is the case. And if you look at capability being developed, especially by Russia right now, and stated intent by Russian leaders, you can read that for sure. So you put capability together and you put intent, and I think you pay me to plan for such as a circumstance where they might be able to attack the homeland.
“So where we are today, in my mind, we’ve been focused on VEOs [violent extremist organizations], this command was born out of the VEO threat after 9/11. Initial focus was exactly that, Homeland Defense focused on VEOs and defense support of civil authorities for incredibly challenging natural disasters and those kinds of things. That changed after Hurricane Katrina, with a defense support of civil authorities mission, and then after nine, after the NDS came out, the National Defense Strategy in 2018, we’re back to focusing this command on homeland defense, especially peer competitors. But what I’ll tell you is we have work to do, because we still approach problems regionally, we plan, strategize, we manage forces regionally, we need to think about these problem sets globally, I think we’re still to stove piped with our data, data that’s not getting shared in a timely enough manner at the operational and strategic level to have influence, deterrence influence, especially in the competition phase. I think we are very reliant, and to reliant for defense of the homeland, on our nuclear deterrent. Make no doubt about it, the nuclear deterrent is the bedrock and foundation for homeland defense. But there’s a growing gap right now between the nuclear deterrent and my ability, conventionally, to deter and defeat. And that’s where I’m worried about, because I need decision space for senior leaders, and options for the senior leaders in, in competition, more importantly in crisis, and conflict, so that we can de-escalate, if required, to defeat. We need to think more broadly about our systems and our development. We tend to be focused in developing and acquiring things that are one-dimensional. BMD [ballistic missile defense], for example, sensors that only support BMD. We have to expand our horizons much more broadly to think about capabilities, as we produce, that can not only do BMD, but they can give us domain awareness from counter UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] all the way to space monitoring and ballistic missile defense and cruise missile defense. And so that’s where you’ll see that that we’re going. I think we’re too focused on kinetic end-game defeat, that we need to be balanced between a conflict mindset for strategy and planning, and a competition mindset and creating deterrence in day-to-day competition. So that’s where I think we need to go.
“I think we need to go to a global perspective, and everything must be viewed in a global perspective that starts with global strategies, global plans, global force management. Candidly, I would say that we’re doing regional force element allocation. We don’t have enough resources and capability today to hand resources over to individual combatant commanders to utilize for long periods of time. We need to think differently and have strategies where combatant commanders can share resources to generate effects, especially in the competition phase. So that’s where I’m focused. Looking beyond deterrence, deterrence by punishment. What I would tell you is deterrence by punishment is our nuclear deterrent. It is our conventional capability to leverage global influence and power. But both of those, in my mind, are, are too late in the process and they’re reactive in nature. I’ll give you an example of what I mean by deterrence by denial, versus deterrence by punishment. Absolutely deterrence by punishment is our nuclear capability. But if you take our deterrence, with our Ballistic Missile Defense capability, which is deterrence by denial, and you put those two together, deterrence by punishment is the cost imposition of a competitor or adversary taking an action, and then their decision calculus, whether they can actually be successful of achieving their objective, and you put those two together, that’s an extremely powerful deterrent. And that’s where I’m gonna be focused, and that starts with just domain awareness, which is my priority line of effort. That comes with sensors that are all around the globe, from undersea to space and cyberspace. And they give domain awareness, that is shared and that domain awareness, much of it exists today, Gen. Deptula. I’m not talking about highly expensive additional capabilities. Certainly we need to continue modernizing, modernizing and moving towards space as soon as we can. But much of the, the awareness exists today, but it’s in stovepipes. It’s not analyzed in a timely manner where operational commanders and strategic decision makers can actually utilize it for influence. What we need to do is take that domain awareness, put it in some type of a cloud mechanism, machine learning, artificial intelligence applied to it. And that’s what I call information dominance, the ability to operate inside our adversary’s OODA Loop.
“Once you have information dominance and you just distribute that data to the right decision makers, whether that be at the tactical level to the strategic level, that’s what I call decision superiority. We tend to focus now, especially JADC2, and you could wrap a bow around what I’m talking about and call it JADC2 if you want, but we tend to focus on the kinetic kill capability of the end-defeat, the tactical portion, for utilization of this information. I see the incredible value is moving further left, getting further left of launch, being able to impact their decision calculus during competition. That’s where you create your deterrence. And then in a crisis situation being able to operate inside their OODA loop to affect their decision calculus, and certainly in a conflict, being able to use, utilize it for kinetic defeat, if we need to do that. I’m encouraged by what’s going on, U.S. Space Comm, Gen. Dickinson and his team are moving in the right direction for this domain awareness, and I look forward to continuing to partner with him. This is all about decision superiority and giving decision makers the opportunity to make those decisions and have decision space. Now for me, I don’t think we need to defend everything, Every piece of critical infrastructure is unaffordable and unachievable, but we need, do need to decide what it is we must defend must defend kinetically, and then look for alternative methods, such as the use of the electromagnetic spectrum and deterrence by denial, through information through getting further left of launch to create capabilities to keep us in that competition phase. I’ll sum it up real quick: I think we need to go faster. Thirty years ago, the department, and, and led the way, NASA led the way, today that is reversed. Industry and other agencies outside the department are leading the way. We need to change how we think about acquiring systems, how we think about moving forward with building capabilities, and allow innovation that’s being conducted elsewhere to lead the way, and take advantage of that. That requires a little bit of risk, it requires Congress assuming a little bit of risk, and the department changing our cultures. So I’ll pause there, and allow our calls there, and allow Gen. Dickinson, and I look forward to taking your questions. Thank you.”
Deptula: “Over to you, Gen. Dickinson.”
Gen. James H. Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command: “Hey, good morning, and thanks to Gen. Deptula for having me today. Great day to be in Washington D.C. and having the opportunity to speak to this group, and thanks to the Air Force Association for the invitation and for the Aerospace Warfare Symposium for hosting it. Always a great day to be able to talk about space. I know you’ve had. Gen. [John W. “Jay”] Raymond and Gen. [David D.] Thompson talk, I think if I heard, yesterday. And so I’m going to give you a perspective from the combatant command, the warfighter perspective, and I think it’s important as we start that I always like to kind of talk about where we are with space, with respect to everything that we do in society today, and that’ll dovetail well into our support to the homeland, for, for Glen VanHerck and his team. So really, you know, you don’t have to go back too far to figure out when, when space became such an important part of our military, but you know, in everyday life we see it with the GPSes that we use is probably the best example, in terms of capability that we depend on every day. Looking at your iPhone, looking at your maps application, where do you get to. That’s all been provided for many years, to, to, to our American public, and it’s very important, very important, and that’s probably the most visible one, if you will, that we provide every day. But don’t, you only have to go back, about 30 years, because we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Desert Storm, and I look at Glenn in the camera here, and probably you too, Dave, and where were you 30 years ago, and uh, when all that happened with Desert Storm. And you look at the use of space for that war, with regards to GPS, really the first wide use of GPS for the military, and really satellite communications. I think we had close to 80% of the theater communications ran through satellite communications on orbit. And even today, you know, you could make an argument that we’re even more reliant on space for our operations, our ability to forward project across the globe. And just look at the recent events that have happened over the last 24 hours rely upon GPS satellite basecom, communications and precision navigation and timing. So all very important, we rely on it each and every day, and thus we need to protect it.
“If you look at the commercial space growth, it’s amazing to see the growth in that particular area, with more than 800 satellite communication payloads on orbit today. And the Starlink or the SpaceX’s Starlink constellation that has more than 1,000 satellites in orbit today, and really, looked at the expansion of our cislunar and beyond. Over the last couple of weeks or last month, you know, we’ve seen China’s rover now in orbit around Mars, preparing to land in May or June, you’ve got the United Arab, Arab Emirates’ Hope spacecraft that entered the Mars orbit on 9 February, really the fifth country to reach orbit around Mars, to include ourselves, China, India, and Russia. So amazing amount of interest, as well as expansion, commercially into the space domain. So really, so, protecting and defending it, and those of our assets and our allies and partners, is really the major role that U.S. Space Comm plays today. So if you look at really the strategic environment, and we know that it has changed, you know, the competition with Russia and China. You know, our American way of life that’s fueled by the space, our space capability. Space is now, without question, a warfighting domain. You know, our response as a nation has been very impressive and fast when you look at the fact that we stood up an 11th combatant command, that I have the honor of commanding today, as well as the establishment of the sixth branch of the service, the Space Force. All of those, those two capabilities just in and of themselves, as postured as well for today and for tomorrow, as we look to protect the homeland, of utilizing space assets.
“So if you look across our adversaries, Glen touched on it just a minute, a few minutes ago, but I’ll talk a little bit about space. You know, we know that China and Russia, our competitors, are really developing a lot of counter-space capabilities. There’s numerous examples of Russia and China deploying systems that can hold our U.S. Space capabilities at risk. So the common question really outside of military circles, sometimes when I’m speaking, I find is, so why have we military, militarized space. And, well, the answer is we really haven’t. Our competitors have. And our response to that is what I just described, in terms of the actions that we’ve taken as a nation. So China has a significant capability, if you will, to deny our advantages in space. They continue to develop a wide range of counter-space capabilities, and really, they’re looking to hold our assets at risk. You just have to look back as late as 2007, if you will, with their on-orbit anti-satellite test that they conducted, and they intend to continue to pursue that type of technology. So when you, when you look at Russia, if you turn the page to Russia, last year alone we saw the Russians conduct at least three, or conduct three anti-satellite tests. Direct ascent, ASAT tests, which can hold at risk our small satellites in low-Earth orbit. More than ever, you know, with those two threats alone, and I won’t deep-dive into each one of those countries specifically, but just kind of a broad brush that I gave you, that just highlights the fact that we need to work more closely, and side by side, with U.S. NORTHCOM and NORAD, along with our other combatant commands, in the defense and protection of those capabilities on orbit. So to kind of wrap up, you know, we do share a common history with, with NORAD NORTHCOM, you know, back during Desert Storm. If we go back 30 years, there was a U.S. Space Command, and that transitioned from U.S. Space Command after 9/11 to U.S. Northern Command for all the right reasons. And so, we do share a common bond in terms of our history, and as we stood back up at Peterson Air Force Base, and being next-door neighbors there with Glen VanHerck and the team we are, we’re working side by side to make sure that we are able to conduct the protection of the homeland in an efficient and deliberate manner. So again, thanks for having me today. I look forward to your questions.”
Deptula: “Well, very good gentlemen, thank you very much for those summary remarks. And Gen. Dickinson, yeah, I remember exactly where I was 30 years ago today, because I was the chief offensive air campaign planner for the air campaign for Desert Storm, so I was pretty busy putting together attack plans for the next 24 hours. And actually, on this date we were in the wrap up, the final four days where our ground forces went into Kuwait to reestablish the occupancy of the rightful sovereign owners of that state. And, as Gen. [Chuck] Horner used to say, Desert Storm was the first space war. Now, that might have been a little bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly started things, because those GPS systems that you mentioned actually guided those tanks and armored vehicles out in that featureless desert. So, it is a, it’s a good reminder to show just how integral space is in all of our military operations, and certainly more so today than ever before in the past. Well let’s dig down a little bit deeper into this topic area, and let me start with a question to you Gen. VanHerck. In a speech last fall, you made the point that when it comes to defending against hypersonic weapons, we need to start thinking of homeland defense in terms of deterrence by denial. Can you elaborate a bit on this point, and how should the pace of technological development determine the U.S. military’s response?”
VanHerck: “Thanks, Gen. Deptula, Sure. So I do remember that speech, and it was, it was a symposium on hypersonics where the majority of hypersonics discussion was around offensive capabilities, and I wanted to flip flop the discussion a little bit and think about defensive capabilities specific of our homeland from hypersonics, which are being fielded both by Russia and China as we speak, or have been fielded. From a defensive perspective, it concerns me to, basically with my NORAD hat, be able to provide attack assessment and warning. We’ll get that initially, but the attack assessment and endgame defeat of hypersonics is a significant challenge, and Gen. Dickinson will tell you that. We’re working closely with [Vice Adm] Jon Hill at the [Missile Defense Agency], as well, to get after this, but I believe as, as I earlier said, a lot like BMD, a generating capability that puts doubt in their mind about achieving their objective by, by striking either nuclear or conventional hypersonics delivered nuclear payload. I’m a firm believer that our nuclear deterrent is the deterrence by that, but conventional payloads, we need to think further left. We need to be inside their OODA loop, we need to be able to posture forces and message to create doubt in their mind about utilizing these capabilities to attack the homeland, to achieve their objectives. And so that’s what I really mean by deterrence by denial, it’s, it’s doubt about the success that they can actually achieve, ultimately. And when you combine both those, as I said earlier, that’s extremely powerful. With regards to the pace of technological development, absolutely, we should, we should be utilizing and pacing with technological development, development in commercial industry, and we’re going in the right direction. We’re not going fast enough for me. And what we need to do is go faster, or we run the risk of our competitive advantage eroding, or continue to erode. I’m not gonna say we’re a peer in every, in every domain with China and Russia, but certainly in many domains we are, but that will continue to erode if we don’t utilize technological developments that are ongoing within the commercial sector, especially in Silicon Valley and many of our defense industrial partners. And so it’s clear we have to go much faster. I hope that answers your question.”
Deptula: “Thanks very much. Let’s turn to Gen. Dickinson. A few weeks ago, U.S. SPACECOM published your commander’s strategic vision document, in which you noted that our homeland defense increasingly relies on space. Could you go into just a bit more detail about SPACECOM’s role in defense of the homeland?”
Dickinson: “Thanks Dave. Yes, absolutely. Got that new strategic vision out on the street, and I’m glad that it’s picking up some traction. I will tell you that I think there is a direct correlation between the security of the U.S. and our ally assets and space and the homeland security. They are inseparably dependent, I think, upon that. I mean, I just, in my opening comments, talked a little bit about our increasing economic dependence on space capabilities, and that’s in line with our military dependence as well on space capabilities. So you know, when you look at our, our ability to provide that to, to the warfighter, you know, some of those examples include position navigation and timing. And as you mentioned, GPS and Desert Storm, I’ve got a few stories myself on that, in terms of what was provided to us. Very elementary at the time, but absolutely a combat multiplier. But we have PMT, we have missile warning, we provide search and rescue information, things, something we don’t talk about a lot, but we need to, is the fact that we provide Glen some humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support, satellite communications, weather forecasting, climate monitoring, etc. etc. so it’s, it’s very important that we understand, you know, how, how critical that is to our way of life here in the United States, and around the world. And, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we’ve got our adversaries our competitors, trying to hold those capabilities at risk. So really, I think defending, defending our space capabilities, and that’s the mission we have been given to protect and defend, is therefore critical, the defense of the homeland, for both the American way of life, and for that of our ability to defend ourselves.”
Deptula: “Well thanks very much for that, and I think it’s, it’s pretty incredible how ubiquitous space has become across the board and it is something that is just simply accepted as being there. And I think it’s extraordinarily important that U.S. Space Command has been reestablished with a focus on defending those capabilities, because they are so critical to U.S., not just national security interests, but day-to-day living by each and every one of the citizens the United States. Gen. VanHerck, last month NORAD tracked to Russian maritime patrol aircraft that entered the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone. Now, we all know that this isn’t something new, that in fact NORAD last year conducted more intercepts of Russian aircraft than it has in many years. Why do you think the number of Russian interceptors has increased, or intrusions have increased? And what’s Russia seeking to gain from engaging in this kind of behavior?”
VanHerck: “Gen. Deptula, I’ll answer that last question first. They’re uh, they’re trying to establish norms and, and deterrence. This is the competition that I alluded to earlier in my opening remarks, and that’s exactly what Russia is doing. Over the last few years, they, they’ve modernized their force, they’ve continued to build infrastructure and capabilities in the Arctic, and what they’re doing is they’re establishing what they would feel are norms and standard operating kind of procedures, and trying to flex their muscles and regain prominence, if you will, on an international platform. As far as why this has happened, and that’s one reason, I would say that the second reason, and this is really important to point out, is I talked about the global nature of competition today. And I’ll give you an example. As you well know, we’ve changed how we do our bomber operations. And we did continuous bomber presence for 16 years or so. Now we’re doing bomber Task Force missions and they’ve been very, very successful. They’ve increased the readiness of our Global Strike Forces. They’ve given combatant commanders around the globe the opportunity to have effects and influence on a more recurring basis as the department has asked for, through dynamic force employment. What I would tell you is the global nature of that problem, what you see, is as Gen. [Tod D.] Wolters or Adm. [Philip S.] Davidson utilizes a Bomber Task Force for influence in their AOR, you’ll see an equal and opposite opportunity or response out of the Russians that, oftentimes, will occur in my AOR. And so I think you’re seeing, kind of, a little bit of a tit for tat, as we have changed our operations. You see a little bit of that with the Russians, as well. So it is a global competition. Now I go back to my point of thinking about this globally in understanding of global strategy and thinking about global impacts, the worst thing that we could have happen is trying to generate an effect in somebody else’s AOR and they are, and I have a strategic mission failure in my AOR, as, that’s what we’re trying to prevent. Thanks, Gen. Deptula.”
Deptula: “Well, staying on the Arctic area of responsibility for a minute if we can, Gen. VanHerck, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Arctic is no longer the neutral buffer that it once provided. What steps is NORTHCOM taking in order to sense and respond to potential threats emanating from the Arctic?”
VanHerck: “Great question, and thanks for the opportunity expand on that. First let’s talk about why the Arctic is changing, real quick. Well the environmental changes certainly creating opportunities for, for all nations to get access, and have economic influence through either transiting through the, the Arctic or have access to the incredible resources. Russia, a large percentage of their economy is driven by access and influence in the Arctic, and China’s wanted access as well, and they call themselves a near-Arctic nation. With that said, what we’re doing is we’re aligning our priorities to the 2019 Department of Defense Arctic strategy. What that requires for me is really persistence to be able to compete. I’ll go back to that competition thing. It’s the ability to compete in the Arctic. And what that requires is the ability to have persistence, and that means I need communications capability. Communications is incredibly challenging north of 65 in the Arctic. We’re working with Congress and Space Command and others. I’m encouraged by where we’re going, we’ll have communications capability up there within the next year or so. Not only communications capability that benefits the military, it’ll benefit industry and the civilian partners, as well, and the natives in the Alaska region and across Canada. Additionally, to have persistence you need access and fuel. Right now, I have a stated requirement for fuel north of Dutch Harbor, Alaska so that we can have Navy and Coast Guard vessels with more persistence and prolonged operations in the Arctic. Working closely with our Canadian allies for infrastructure, infrastructure to house military capabilities, such as aircraft, early warning aircraft to give us that domain awareness that we’re talking about, and we’re also working hard with the services. I’m encouraged that all the services are coming up with their Arctic strategy. We’re expanding opportunities to exercise. You’ll see exercises next month, that’s part of my campaign plan, and I just released a strategy as well, so I’d encourage you, those who have access to a classified network, to take a look at that, and we’ll have an unclassified version coming out as well. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Deptula: “You bet. Gen. Dickinson, those Russians have been pretty busy. In December, Russia conducted a new anti-satellite missile test using a direct ascent missile, designed to destroy small SATs in low Earth orbit. How common are these tests and beyond the handful of countries that currently possess this capability, are other countries developing in anti-satellite missiles?”
Dickinson: “Well thanks, Dave, you know, just in 2020 we saw Russia conduct three separate anti-satellite tests alone. I mean the first was a DAA-sat test that we saw in April, then Russia released an on-orbit projectile near one of our, their own satellites, in July and as you mentioned they conducted a second DAA-sat test in December. And additionally in February of 20. And we saw Russia conducted an on-orbit testing, near, near a U.S. government satellite, so just like in any other domain, this type of behavior, you know, I would categorize as, as dangerous. And as you said, we’ve seen tests from other nations, and not just direct ascent anti-satellite tests or missiles, but other security threats in space. This includes kinetic-kill vehicles on orbit, and even electronic warfare capabilities. All this reinforces, you know, the idea that we need to promote responsible behaviors in space and really establish norms that allow for the safe use of that domain for both us, the United States, as well as our allies and partners.”
Deptula: “Well thanks for that, let me ask you a bit of a follow up. The cost of missile defense and early warning capabilities are projected to rise over the next few decades. Could you elaborate on SPACECOM’s role in missile defense, and what is SPACECOM doing to maximize the benefit of existing technology for long term gains in this area?”
Dickinson: “Uh, sure. So you know SPACECOM, you know, is a key supporting combatant command for the missile defense community, you know, as the functional management office or FMO the missile, for missile warning, US SPACECOM, through our component Space Operations Command, part of the U.S. Space Force, operates, you know, the satellites as well as our ground based radars, for early warning to our missile defenders and shooters throughout, not only maybe the homeland, but also the globe. And so, in the unified command plan of 2020, U.S. Space Command was declared the global sensor manager. So what that means is we’re responsible for the planning, managing, and conducting of operations of assigned DOD space domain awareness, missile defense, and missile warning sensors. So, in our role as a missile warning functional management office and global sensor manager, you know, we are the lead to interface and advocate for the enhancement of the DOD missile warning systems, missile defense, and space domain awareness sensors. So that’s kind of it in a nutshell, what we contribute, a big mission, a large mission for the command and one that we’re doing each and every day.”
Deptula: “Well thanks for that. Gen. VanHerck, last year NORTHCOM and NORAD launched the Pathfinder program to modernize the systems used to process data from the radars and other sensors that we rely on for homeland defense. Could you expand a bit about just what this program seeks to achieve, and do you think it could be a model for other programs inside the Department of Defense?”
VanHerck: “Yeah, so it’s, Pathfinder is actually the name, to be clear for everybody. And it’s a unique capability that we worked with DIU to fill quickly, that essentially takes an ingest, aggregates data from multiple systems. Data that would, in the past have been, what I would say left on the cutting room floor, and not analyzed or assessed in a timely manner, or it would have been data that was stove piped through an individual system, individually analyzed. And so the Pathfinder program uses machine learning to help us analyze that data from multiple systems—not only military systems, but commercial systems, other government agency systems, as you fuse that data. Let me give you an example of how this can be really successful, to kind of put it into perspective. And so, if you remember in 2015, Gyrocopter flew down in the National Capital Region from the north and landed on the White House lawn. When you go back and look at that scenario, when you look at the systems to monitor the National Capital Region individually, no single system at full awareness or saw that Gyrocopter. We took Pathfinder and applied it to the available systems, the actual data and utilized Pathfinder capabilities to assess that data, and sure enough, there that Gyrocopter was, and it was easily detected by that point. This gives us the ability to utilize existing data systems, going back to where I’m talking about domain awareness and information dominance today, to relatively affordable situation, analyze and assess that data. And now it’s just a challenge of getting to the right decision makers at the right time. I absolutely believe it can be a model for the Department of Defense. It lays the foundation for improved data-driven decision making and enhanced capability, and we’ve, we were using it today. It’s out in our fields and in our sectors right now. Historically our sectors were very manually driven, phone calls to pass data, etc. Today we fuse all that data together, and we’re seeing the picture much more real time, and much more in a, an automatic type of digital environment.”
Deptula: “Well very good. Gen. Dickinson, one of the goals that you identified in your strategic vision document was to integrate commercial entities into SPACECOM operations. As commercial entities are playing an increasingly prominent role in U.S. space operations writ large, how do you envision that they could contribute to homeland defense?”
Dickinson: “Well Dave, just as I discussed with missile warning, mission space capabilities you know are critically linked to our ability to protect and defend the homeland as a theme that we’ve talked about this morning. I think it’s equally important to understand that given the size and the complexity of the operating environment, we simply, simply can’t go it alone. Our partnerships with our allies, and with our friends in the commercial industry, are central to successful military operations in the space domain. We can’t operate effectively in space without our commercial partners, and we can’t protect and defend the U.S. homeland without those space capabilities. Our commercial partners are fully in, are fully part of the integral link between space and homeland defense. This concept is so important that I’ve outlined it in my, as, in my commander’s key tasks and my strategic vision. Yeah, one of our functional components, the combined force base component command, which is out of Vandenberg Air Force Base, is leading the effort with our commercial integration cell, where we currently have nine companies that are integrated out there at Vandenberg, and we’re looking to expand that each and every day. And we’re also working with the intelligence community, really, quite frankly, to build a stronger commercial partnership there. And then my J-5, or my strategy, plans, and policy directorate, as working to secure key engagements with our commercial and industry partners, to ensure that we are able to communicate our strategic and operational challenges we face. So the commands J-8 that we’re proud to have stood up now and working very hard, plays a key role for us in capturing and prioritizing our requirements that our service components need to source. So, industry can help, help us see how new and developing technologies open up our options for our requirements that just weren’t possible before. So a pivotal part for the command is the integration of the commercial industry into our operations.”
Deptula: “Well thank you for that. Now Gen. VanHerck, in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the tragic consequences that result from breakdowns of our vulnerable power grid. What kind of contingencies is NORTHCOM developing with respect to threats to our nation’s power grid from electromagnetic pulse or EMP attacks?”
VanHerck: “Thanks Dave. Absolutely. I get paid to think about all kinds of those contingencies, and that’s exactly what we’re doing, and doing that in partnership with Homeland Security and other agencies across. Let me talk to you how I would approach that, and that did make me reflect on vulnerabilities and opportunities, as well, to prepare the department for such circumstances as you just described. So the way I would approach this initially would be from a standpoint of continuing to defend, if it was a nefarious actor, to ensure that we defend our homelands, and my NORAD hat that’s Canada and the United States, in my NORTHCOM hat, certainly it’s going to be the United States. So there if there is an ongoing tactic, attack to make sure we’re postured to defeat or defend against any potential threat. The next thing I would be concerned about is my future ability to continue my mission, so my ballistic missile defense mission, for example, and ensuring there’s no negative effects that have impacted ballistic missile defense, continuity of government, continuity of operations, surge layer force protection, my ability to do Noble Eagle, all those things would come to mind really quickly. And so we think about those, and exercise and strategize how those fit into an overall plan to defend. And finally, an absolutely no fail mission is I must be ready in such a situation to provide defense support of civil authorities. And so that’s how I would flow thinking about that. I’m encouraged that we’re starting to think about this at a more broad government level. It’s because of the threat I started off with and described, and potential intent. I’m encouraged that we’re going to have a whole of government, exercises, top-tier exercises that will exercise taking a look at what you’re talking about. One of the exercises, and it’s still a few years away, that I’ve asked for is the flip flop. Typically these exercises are based on natural disasters and those kinds of thing, for, for an interagency, where I’m always wearing my support hat. It’s important for us to conduct exercises where it is an attack on the homeland, where I am the supported commander by other agencies as well, and to iron out those types of command and control, and responses that would be needed to the event that you described. Thank you.”
Deptula: “All right, well we’re coming to endgame here, and for both of you. The U.S. is likely to face many years of budget constraints. If you had just one minute to tell Congress which your top priorities are, please take one minute each, and tell us just what those top priorities are. Gen. Dickinson, why don’t you go first.”
Dickinson: “Thanks Dave. So, I got to tell you, it’s a different position for me now as the combatant commander. I really look hard at, obviously, what, what the services are doing in the space domain and what they’re procuring, but what I’m looking very carefully at is developing the requirements that we need to fight and win in space domain. And so as I look at the requirements, and producing those for the services to look at, I’m very interested in making sure that we continue with our investments in the integration of space domain capabilities, data fusion, processing, integrated command and control, and spacewalk warfighting capabilities. And really at the bedrock of that are the, underpinned by all that will be the robust cybersecurity posture to protect and defend those technologies. But it is, it’s a different perspective for me now, being able to look across, you know, all commercial-type activities as well as what we’re doing in the services, and really develop those requirements that I need in order to get the assets that I need for, for my mission.”
Deptula: “Thank you. Gen. VanHerck?”
VanHerck: “Thanks, Gen. Deptula. On the 16th of March, I’ll testify in front of the SASC and cover exactly what you’re, you’re asking me to cover here. Increased domain awareness is the top of my apple. As I said, that’s from undersea, to sea, land, air, space, cyberspace. And taking that domain awareness, utilizing capabilities to provide information dominance. We need to set the foundation now, because using machine learning and artificial intelligence will absolutely challenge some policy decisions. We need to set that foundation right now so that we’re, we’re ahead of the game, and we don’t field capabilities where there’s concern about machines providing solutions and opportunities for us in the military dimension. We need to focus on competition, competition as whole of a nation. Whole of a nation, long term, with a focus on China. Right now I think we are getting that way, I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing. But this will require a whole of nation effort to get after the problem long-term to compete. An integrated, integrated synchronized strategy to get after that. To go faster, faster, and accept a little bit of risk to be able to go faster within the department. You know, to go fast, you have to fail at times, and I believe that’s acceptable. So, you get back up on your feet and keep going. So, that’s what I would tell them that’s crucial for us.”
Deptula: “Well thanks very much, Gen. VanHerck. And gentlemen, we’ve come to the end of this virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium event. Thanks again to both of you for your comments on these issues, and clearly from the discussion today, it’s very evident that SPACECOM and NORTHCOM are very fortunate to have you both leading these critical commands. So on behalf of all, all of us at the Air Force Association, we wish you the very best, and from the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies, we hope that you both have a great aerospace power kind of day.”