The ability for joint commands to interoperate and communicate remotely and reliably has become increasingly crucial to our homeland defense in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to keep the necessary skills sharp and put interoperability capabilities to the test, the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) led a major homeland defense exercise conducted in partnership with North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and U.S. Space Command, with the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) under the operational control of USNORTHCOM.
According to U.S. Strategic Command, “This large-scale exercise is a first of its kind where four combatant commands and NORAD are conducting homeland defense operations, exercising joint integration, conducting multi-national operations, and strengthening interoperability in command and control.”
Participants used Link 16, a tactical data system that allows real-time access to command and control data and situational awareness. Leveraging data systems like this one highlights the significance to mission readiness of data sharing and data access across domains.
“Leading complex multi-combatant command operations across multiple domains demonstrates our readiness to defend our homeland regardless of COVID-19,” said General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM. “The high-end training we are conducting enables integration between strategic-level organizations who all play a significant role in the most important mission for our nation — defending our homeland.”
Supporting elements such as Operation NOBLE EAGLE alert tankers and USSPACECOM were also available to the exercise participants, with the tankers providing important refueling resources and USSPACECOM providing satellite communications and GPS. Both of these resources are crucial to the ability for the HSTCSG to act swiftly in-theater and communicate on-going and future actions reliably.
“Today, there is not a joint operation that doesn’t integrate space capabilities – the pervasiveness of these capabilities and the information they provide is a key ingredient to how American forces operate with unmatched speed, precision, and lethality,” said Gen. John W. “Jay” Raymond, USSPACECOM commander and USSF Chief of Space Operations.
According to the article, in order to deliver realistic training for these warfighters in this exercise, U.S. Strategic Command provided a B-1B Lancer long-range bomber to simulate an adversary role and attempt to penetrate U.S. airspace. “The multi-mission, supersonic B-1B can rapidly deliver massive quantities of precision and non-precision munitions against any adversary, anywhere in the world at any time. Strategic bomber operations and exercises enhance the readiness and training necessary to respond to any contingency or challenge across the globe.”
Industry partners agree that there is great value in exercises like these, as they put technologies currently in use by the military directly to the test and reveal potential areas for improvement in the future. “These exercises are critical to force readiness,” stated Ted Dempsey of Collins Aerospace. “In addition to refining what exists, the lessons learned help identify gaps and seams in current capabilities plus what may be needed to counter emerging threats. These lessons learned shared with industry could be applied to advancing interoperability, assured in-theater and global communications, or blended, advanced training programs.”
Seeing joint commands operate seamlessly together in-theater speaks volumes to the significance of interoperability and the solutions and technological approaches that support it.