NORAD and USNORTHCOM use VS 07 to stretch personnel, capabilities, interagency cooperation

By MC1(SW/AW) Joaquin Juatai | NORAD/USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | December 09, 2006

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command are in the midst of Exercise Vigilant Shield ’07 (VS 07), a robust exercise simulating a series of adverse events designed to stretch the two commands to the full extent of their capabilities.

Based on a series of simulated but plausible events, VS 07 began Dec. 4 with the crash of an Air Force C-17 cargo jet transporting four nuclear weapons, continued with simulated intrusions into U.S. and Canadian air space by foreign strategic bombers, more than 25,000 protestors, some of whom were identified as possible terrorists, outside of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Calif., a commando attack against Fort Greely in Alaska and aircraft hijackings and crashes. The exercise included increased tensions between the U.S. and foreign nations, the possibility of an intercontinental ballistic missile launch aimed at the U.S. and many more scenarios.

“Our goal here is to make sure we are not encumbered by conventional wisdom and stereotypical approaches to challenges,” said Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of NORAD and USNORTHCOM. “If we do come up with a different way of collaborating and communicating, a more effective way of defending our homeland, then we will be (achieving) what I would say are very important goals for the exercise.”

According to the NOARD and USNORTHCOM Director of Training, Exercise and Education Gene Pino, stretching the commands to the breaking point is part of the thought process behind designing a robust exercise such as VS 07.

“Regardless of the world situation right now, the job of NORAD and Northern Command is to be prepared not just today, but in the future ... to defend the homeland,” Pino said.

“We want to stress our staff,” he continued. “We want to present them with extremely challenging simultaneous events that will push them to reach breaking points. We want to cause them (NORAD and USNORTHCOM personnel) to make mistakes, because we want to make mistakes while we’re exercising, not in the real world.”

Some of the exercise injects are designed to stress the interagency cooperation required to deal with notional attacks and U.S. government responses to catastrophic events around the nation.

“One of the unique things about U.S. Northern Command is that we have representatives of more than 60 different government and private sector agencies under the same roof here,” said “Baer” McConnell, director of Interagency Coordination for USNORTHCOM. McConnell explained that, because of the interagency organization at USNORTHCOM, “we have the ability to have the right mix of agencies here looking at each other eye to eye.

“We’re a lot better at this sort of thing than we were two years ago,” said McConnell. He emphasized that interagency coordination with NORAD and USNORTHCOM is constantly improving.

“We have to be ready, in case that event happens or it doesn’t. I think the American citizen expects that of us,” said Pino.

More than 6,000 people, including military, federal, state and local personnel have been involved in the exercise. There were actual mobilizations, including the U.S. Air Force’s Response Task Force, which deployed to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, a U.S. Army security force which deployed to Fort Greely, Alaska from Fort Richardson, Alaska, for the exercise and more.

“The job that is foremost in our minds is defending the homeland,” said Keating. “That is what the exercise was constructed to stress. It has been a demanding series of events for us.

“In the end, I hope that Canadians and Americans are all assured that United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command are prepared to respond to threats as they present themselves,” said Keating. “And more importantly, to deter and deflect those attacks before they ever occur.”