NORAD, USNORTHCOM meet challenges of multiple, diverse missions
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — This month, the two military commands charged with defending the homeland have also answered the call to support the launch and landing of Space Shuttle Endeavour, provide divers to assist in underwater recovery efforts in Minneapolis, transport rescue crews to Utah's Crandall Canyon mine, monitor Russian bombers flying near North American airspace, and deploy teams of experts to assist in Hurricane Dean response preparations.
"This level of activity is entirely typical for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command," said NORAD and USNORTHCOM commander, Gen. Gene Renuart. "While defense of the homeland always remains job number one, USNORTHCOM also has the mission of providing defense support of civil authorities as directed by the president or the secretary of defense.
"We work very closely with our many federal, state and local agency partners, including the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Guard, to help save lives, mitigate suffering and prevent property loss in times of crisis."
Since Hurricane Dean – a category 5 storm when it struck the Yucatan Peninsula this morning – first developed into a tropical storm in the Atlantic Ocean, NORAD and USNORTHCOM personnel have been closely monitoring its progress. USNORTHCOM also began responding last week to requests for Department of Defense support in preparation for the storm's possible landfall in the United States. The command deployed several coordination and emergency response teams to Texas, Louisiana and the Caribbean, where they were positioned to support the primary federal agency and other responding agencies with relief and recovery efforts.
"USNORTHCOM's disaster response is part of a larger federal effort," Renuart said. "We are in support of the primary federal agency and civilian authorities to ensure the states' success."
NORAD and USNORTHCOM also support planned events, such as every launch and landing of the space shuttles. At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today, fighter planes and helicopters under NORAD's direction ensured airspace safety and security for the landing of Space Shuttle Endeavour. USNORTHCOM, meanwhile, is the lead Department of Defense organization responsible for military incident support to the space shuttle, which includes astronaut rescue and recovery and orbiter recovery.
"We work with NASA, DoD installations, the U.S. military services and other U.S. government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard to accomplish the shuttle mission," Renuart said.
NORAD personnel have also been closely watching the skies as long-range Russian bombers conduct exercises more frequently and closer to U.S. and Canadian territory.
“Over the last few months the Russian Air Force has been flying a little bit more than we’ve seen in the past," Renuart said. "Certainly, they’re ranging farther than they have in the more recent past.
“NORAD has intercepted them out over international waters, near Alaska, and the command continues to monitor all of their long-range bomber flight activity."
Back on the ground, USNORTHCOM provided emergency air transportation for rescue crews sent to Huntington, Utah, where six miners are still missing after two weeks. And, following the collapse of the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis, USNORTHCOM deployed a team of Navy divers and support personnel to assist in search and recovery efforts.
"Even as multiple events converge, we will not be distracted from our focus on homeland defense," Renuart said. "NORAD and USNORTHCOM remain vigilant to anticipate, deter, detect and defeat threats to the Canadian and American homelands."
NORAD is the bi-national Canadian and American command that is responsible for the air defense of North America and maritime warning. USNORTHCOM is the unified combatant command responsible for defending the homeland and providing defense support of civil authorities.