“In my view, missile defense of the Homeland starts with the strategic deterrent to include the options and survivability provided by a reliable and effective nuclear triad; but as I testified before the full committee, I’m concerned that deterrence by cost imposition does not adequately account for the conventional capabilities our competitors have already fielded. This over-reliance increases the risk of miscalculation and escalation because it limits our national leaders’ options in crisis and conflict.”
– General Glen VanHerck, Commander, US Northern Command
Deterrence is made up of three core competent capabilities – cost imposition on opponent, denial of opponent’s actions, and credible communication of your intent to succeed in both. U.S. senior military leaders put a high premium on outpacing the enemy’s decision cycle. The ability of the U.S. military to gain and maintain decision advantage is one of the Department’s top priorities. The awareness of the U.S.’s ability to maintain its decision-making ability to impose cost across all domains and in command and control (C2) of all of those domains is enough to deter China and Russia from striking first. The classified series of documents that comprise the Joint Warfighting Concept that is in its final stages of completion describe how decision advantage must enable the joint force, and defines the capabilities required to create decision advantage for the U.S. through information, fires, logistics, and C2.
The implementation of decision advantage through C2 is the intent of the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) concept. The concept aims to build a technical enterprise that will enable enhanced shared situational awareness and real-time synchronization and integration of cyber, non-kinetic, and kinetic long-range precision fires – including those in defense of the adversary’s first strike capabilities. JADC2’s end goal is to deliver information and decision advantage to the joint force commanders and civilian leadership at the highest levels. Adversaries must know that the U.S. will always possess that capability.
U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) are the critical warfighting organizations directly responsible for deterrence and defense of the U.S. homeland – they are lead proponents and early adopters of the development and requirements of JADC2. NORTHCOM immediately recognized the benefit of JADC2 to integrate information from all domains to gain information advantage and decision advantage, and to operate with its joint and multi-national organization, North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). In March 2021 NORTHCOM led one of the first wargames that incorporated and tested JADC2 models. Since then its commander, General Glen VanHerck, has driven the NORTHCOM staff to advance the integration of existing and new technology into JADC2 thinking – all in the name of decision advantage for deterrence. JADC2 will be essential for both NORTHCOM and STRATCOM to accomplish their mission of homeland defense by having the persistent situational awareness available to make quicker, defining decisions.
A significant challenge for JADC2 planners and implementors is to identify and integrate all the sensors, across all domains, that feed into the JADC2 system, and enable these to “talk” to each other. Unfortunately, challenges in the development and deployment of next-generation sensors in all domains – many not projected to be complete until 2028 – are driving the timeline for employment of effectors as well. Even if the DoD could prioritize and accelerate production of effectors, they would not have the targeting data they need to operate effectively until the sensor systems come online in 2028.
In space, the legacy SBIRS and future DSS systems provide overhead, persistent surveillance to warn against missile launches and discriminate missile payloads in flight in space. The Missile Defense Agency’s HBTSS, which will be a part of the upcoming Space Force architecture, will host sensors that provide medium field of view search to track and provide firing solutions for Hypersonic Glide Vehicles that are not currently even tracked by existing sensor architectures.
On the ground and at sea, early warning and missile defense sensors include the AN/SPY-1, Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX), Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR), the AN/FPS-108 (Cobra Dane), and the Long Range Discrimination Radar, among others. These radars are directional and limited to the curvature of the earth.
In the air, augmenting space-based sensors that struggle to pick up low heat signatures and ground-based sensors limited in their range by the horizon, airborne sensors can see over the horizon low and can detect cruise missiles. The Australian E-7 Wedgetail, the Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and the Joint Force F-35s are very capable cruise missile tracking and firing solution platforms.
These advanced, early warning and tracking systems need to connect into a fire control system that can seamlessly activate effectors to eliminate incoming threats. That system today is C2BMC that brings sensors from across different domains and delivers a firing control system to our Ground Based Interceptors for the limited defense of the United States Homeland from North Korea. The C2BMC uses Link 16 to share its sensor information across the spectrum of today’s effectors such as THAAD, SM-2/SM-3/SM-6’s equipped to AEGIS, Patriot PAC-3, and GBI’s to best fit the threat.
On May 24, North Korea lashed out against a dozen UN Security Council unanimous resolutions and sanctions against it, for the 17th time this year alone. The rogue nation antagonized the United States with three ballistic missile launches as the President returned from his trip to Asia.
“Strategic competitors have openly declared their intent to hold our Homeland at risk in an effort to advance their own entrance and limit our options and ability to respond. North Korea continues to test nuclear capable ballistic missiles with increased range and lethality, while Russia and China have fielded and continued to invest heavily in advanced long range cruise missiles, hypersonic missiles, and delivery platforms. As we’ve seen throughout Russia’s unprovoked and irresponsible invasion of Ukraine, Russia has fielded large numbers of long-range cruise missiles, including hypersonic missiles that can cause enormous damage to infrastructure, create strategic effects with conventional warheads.”
“These conventional precision strike capabilities and advanced delivery platforms are designed specifically to hold critical infrastructure in the Homeland at risk below the nuclear threshold, in order to disrupt and delay our ability to project power globally, while attempting to undermine our will to intervene in a regional crisis overseas.”
- General Glen VanHerck, Commander, US Northern Command
For C2BMC to function effectively, it is necessary to utilize the best sensors that provide overhead persistent 24/7 surveillance against all threat types. In NORTHCOM’s list of unfunded requests, they mention the acquisition of four over-the-horizon (OTH) radars that bounces high frequency waves off layers of the atmosphere to expand its detection range beyond the range of conventional ground-based radars. The list also mentions the E-7 Wedgetail, an aerial surveillance and C2 aircraft that is a significant upgrade from the aging, but still in use, E-3 Sentry. Above the aerial early warning layer, space-based sensors such as the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) that will provide a medium view search and tracking for hypersonic glide vehicles that can soar at altitudes unreachable with current ground-based sensors.
The clear omission in today’s missile defense sensors is the ability to see threats as they launch and approach over the horizon and under the radar. The solution to discerning cruise missile threats beyond what today’s radars can detect are over-the-horizon radars that provide persistent stare. Capable OTH radar systems exist today. They reflect high-frequency radar waves off the ionosphere and can see down to sea level up to about 4,000 km away. The US operated OTH radar systems facing east and west during the Cold War, but current OTH radar systems in Virginia, Texas, and Puerto Rico point south to perform an anti-drug trafficking mission. The NORTHCOM commander testified both in 2021 and 2022 that OTH radar capability would greatly improve the U.S.’s ability to detect and track threats in the air, maritime and space domains. In August 2021, he stated, “there’s technology today – it’s proven technology – that would give us over-the-horizon radar capability to that domain awareness that we’re talking about.” Even while today’s OTH systems are capable to provide what NORTHCOM and NORAD immediately need, Japan, Australia, and other countries, research and development continues toward next generation OTH radars. The next generation will exploit new technologies to boost signal-to-noise ratios, further improving these systems with greater geolocation accuracy and elevation information.
We have the technology. We have the capability. We must defend the North American continent and that includes both Canada and Mexico. Expanding collaboration with Canada through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the advanced sensors that started with the Distant Early Warning line and grew into the North Warning System. In March 2022, Canada announced the purchase of 88 F-35 fighters to bolster its commitment to the NORAD mission and could continue this commitment with the acquisition of E-7 Wedgetail to replace the aging E-3 Sentry. The encouragement of Canada to acquire its own two OTH radars would supplement current US capabilities. The overall strengthening of the sensor structure across the North American must continue and could expand to involve Mexico with its own aqcuistion of an OTH radar as well.
Knowledge is power. Real time awareness is power. The advantage of decisive, decision-making backed up by awareness and fire-power creates a super power. It provides key essentials for Strategic Deterrence.
One Continent, One Defense