REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 22, 2014) -- One of the Army's four-star generals took a very public stand on the agency developing the nation's Ballistic Missile Defense System during the Space and Missile Defense Symposium at the Von Braun Center here, Aug. 13.
And that stand was firmly on the side of making a difference.
Gen. Chuck Jacoby, who serves as commander of U.S. Northern Command, which protects the U.S. and its neighbors Canada and Mexico; as well as being the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD, expressed his appreciation to the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA.
"There has been an incredible sea change in our relationship with MDA over the last year," Jacoby said. "They have adopted a culture of support for the warfighter that I find incredible. We are better defended today than a year ago, thanks to MDA and [MDA Director Navy Vice Adm.] Jim Syring."
Syring spoke about the ballistic missile defense systems in a presentation, just prior to Jacoby's presentation on defending the homeland. Syring took over as director of the Missile Defense Agency in late 2012. About 5,000 of the agency's employees are based in facilities at Redstone Arsenal.
Jacoby has testified extensively to Congress on the importance of missile defense, saying the work MDA does with ballistic missile defense, and the expanding role of the Aerospace Defense Command, provides an "enormous competitive advantage for defending the nation."
Jacoby is the first Army officer to assume command of the Northern Command, which was established 12 years ago. Its traditional role is civil support, but its missions of defending the homeland, and security cooperation are expanding, while the NORAD space mission is evolving.
"Defending the homeland is becoming a complex and challenging problem in all domains," Jacoby said. "Homeland defense issues are becoming higher and higher on my priorities."
The Northern Command and NORAD have complementary missions, operate with a common security environment, and share common values. Northern Command partners with other agencies to conduct homeland defense and civil support operations to defend, protect, and secure the U.S. borders and interior, while NORAD conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning in defense of North America.
"Preventing catastrophic actions against North America and the nation is the number one priority, and that includes everything from tornadoes to nuclear threats," Jacoby said. "The number one task is to defend the homeland in depth, while tightly confined to the continent, from Guatemala to the Arctic."
While the relationship with Canada has always been amiable, and essential to national security, Jacoby said, "our relationship with Mexico has never been better, and has never been more important."
The security of these two partner nations means security for the U.S., he said. Both Canada and Mexico are economic and security partners with the U.S.
Jacoby stressed the need to have better cyberspace intelligence in defense of the nation. Currently, he said, it is difficult to know "when malicious activity becomes an attack," both in cyberspace and in space.
"We need to be able to see across all domains," he said, predicting future attacks would be multi-pronged. "We won't see an attack in just one domain. We will get a complex number of attacks occurring simultaneously."
Although the focus is on protecting and defending the U.S., Jacoby said the defense of the nation doesn't stop at its waterline.
"There is no other commander more interested in what's going on in North Korea, and in the uncontrolled territories of Syria and Iran," he said. I've got to be connected where networks are concerned (for situational awareness). The area of interest is global, the area of responsibility is confined. And I'm most concerned with the problems with people we've stopped watching.
"We need better intelligence of North Korea," he continued. "We need to know more about their intentions and capability. We need information on extremist groups and individuals. They can reach our homeland in ways they couldn't in the past."
Northern Command relies on its partnerships with 50 governors and their state agencies, and with several federal agencies, to accomplish its mission.
"The best way to defend the country is the old-fashioned way, with deterrence," he said. "What did the Cold War accomplish? It helped keep the peace. When you think about how to deter threats, missile defense is critical to create some kind of deterrent against the development of weapons of mass destruction. How do you deter terrorist activity?
"[Terrorism is] a real practical threat to the homeland that we don't have an answer for, [and it] will seriously constrain leader decisions and [it] will take options off the table," he explained.
Geographic combatant commanders are facing more difficult challenges that can be better addressed with a strong missile defense system, he said. Nations that "demonstrate capabilities and hostilities against the U.S. are seen as a practical threat," and the U.S. must have the defense systems in place to counterbalance that threat, he added.
Better intelligence, discretion, sensor resilience and reliability will make the nation stronger when facing world threats, Jacoby said, so it's important to "continue to improve what we've got and look to the future to evolving threats to ensure we outpace them."
The bottom line, he said, comes down to providing the American people with a kind of national defense that will keep them safe and secure.
"I think the American people have high expectations of how this country is defended. They expect that no more airplanes will crash into buildings. They expect us to knock down missiles headed for the U.S.," Jacoby said.
He said he is concerned that inadequate budgets will make it virtually impossible to make a strategic decision, and they are unacceptable in a time of great uncertainty worldwide. There are still eight more years of "blind $52 billion cuts a year" to the Department of Defense budget, and Jacoby said, such a budgetary approach "places the country's security at risk."