As the Pentagon undertakes a number of reviews on U.S. defense strategy, nuclear posture, and missile defense, the commander of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is emphasizing the role of artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) to promote “integrated deterrence” by giving senior decision makers a range of options based on data from multiple sensors.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin first spoke of the “integrated deterrence” concept in April as a means to make potential adversaries think twice through the employment of new technologies, such as AI/ML and quantum computing; the elimination of stovepipes between military services and government agencies; and the integration of sensor data across land, air, sea, and space.

In an address at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., on Aug. 10, U.S. Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the NORTHCOM and NORAD commander, said that Russia and China realize the advantage the U.S. has in regional power projection and thus are trying to counter that advantage through cyber warfare and advanced hypersonic glide vehicles, cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

“Each and every day, I would say we’re under attack, especially in the information space, undermining the foundation of our homeland–our democracy–whether it be through election fraud, COVID disinformation, you name it,” he said. “China is on the same path. In about a decade, they’ll be there kinetically. Today, they’re on a par with Russia in cyber and space.”

Russia has developed the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, while China has recently demonstrated “very advanced” hypersonics, and such capabilities present “significant challenges” to NORAD threat warning and attack assessment, VanHerck said.

“These are key components for strategic decisions that need to be made for our nation,” he said. “Without them, the risk of strategic deterrence failure goes up dramatically.”

DoD leaders continue to contend that nuclear deterrence is the foundation for U.S. national security. While VanHerck confirmed that he holds the same view, he also said that “there’s a growing gap between our nuclear deterrent and my ability to defend the homeland.”

“That’s exactly what’s being exploited right now,” VanHerck said. “This gap is decision space that our senior leaders will not have in a crisis, which increases the risk of strategic deterrence failure.”

“At NORTHCOM and NORAD, we’re working to fill this gap to give our senior leaders options, not only for defeat options in conflict, de-escalation options in crisis, but, most importantly, to create deterrence day-to-day in competition,” he said. “Filling this gap starts with policy, addressing what we must defend and how we must defend it…For me to provide realistic requirements into the department or to build a realistic plan for defending the homeland, I have to have that policy.”

“Beyond defending, whether that defense be kinetic, whether that defense be through cyber resiliency, whether that defense be through hardening or other capabilities, we must continue to create doubt about their ability to achieve their objectives by striking our homeland,” VanHerck said. “There’s significant room for growth in the use of the electromagnetic spectrum for defensive capabilities and also deception capabilities. I believe this is a discussion we must have as a nation.”

NORTHCOM and NORAD have been using AI/ML under a Pathfinder initiative to integrate sensor data to give senior leaders more time to make decisions (Defense Daily, July 19). In April, the Air Force awarded Kinetica a contract potentially worth $100 million over five years for a streaming data warehouse for Pathfinder.

On Aug. 10, VanHerck cited an incident in March when Russian forces moved into the Donbass region near Crimea and caught U.S. decision makers off guard. After that, NORTHCOM and NORAD tested out what would have happened had available geospatial intelligence, signals intelligence, and commercial/pattern of life analysis data been tied together, and VanHerck said that such integration would have provided three days of warning of the movement of Russian forces.

That “decision superiority” will be key for the U.S. going forward, VanHerck said, as the U.S. needs to work with its allies “to generate effects abroad so I don’t have to defend at home,” VanHerck said.

“If I’m attempting to shoot down cruise missiles over the National Capital Region, I consider that a failure,” he said. “We need to have those engagements forward, or create that deterrence forward…The NORAD/NORTHCOM homeland defense design is absolutely created to give senior decision makers more time and more decision space day-to-day, in crisis and in conflict to address the increasing threats from today’s ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, UAS–including small UAS, and hypersonic glide vehicles, including the platforms that employ them.”