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News | Sept. 24, 2012

Alaska NORAD Region depends on U.S., Canadian binational cooperation

By Airman 1st Class Omari Bernard Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska. - Cold, determined and isolated atop a mountain in the middle of Alaska, a silent sentinel scans the skies. The men and women receiving the data from this lonely radar site of the Alaskan Radar System, though different in nationality, realize they belong to something bigger than themselves and their differences.

From the sea below to the skies well above, keeping their countries safe is all that matters to the Americans and Canadians who monitor it. Ever vigilant, the sentries of the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Region - part of the U.S. and Canadian binational organization known as NORAD - maintain their solemn duty: to survey and provide early warning.

"It is our job to warn of an aerospace attack upon North America," said Royal Canadian Air Force Col. Daniel Constable, deputy commander of the ANR. "The formal missions of NORAD are threefold: aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning.

"Aerospace warning: Includes the monitoring of man-made objects in space and the detection, validation and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.

"Aerospace Control: This is where we actually do something about a threat. An extreme example would be a bomber that clearly displays intent to attack North America using a weapon system like a cruise missile. We would know about that through our warning and have assets to shoot it down.

"Maritime Warning: includes partnering with geographic combatant commanders, U.S. and Canadian Government agencies, allied nations, and the commercial/private sector to maximize maritime warning and maritime domain awareness for North America through information sharing, plan development and cooperative training."

Constable, a fighter pilot who has flown Canadian CF-18 Hornets on operational NORAD missions, including in the Arctic, is the highest-ranking Canadian on JBER and helps lead the ANR.

"In the summers between my university years, they would send me away to various sites to get experience," Constable said. "My very first location was a radar site up at Cold Lake, Alberta."

Constable said most RCAF members work on or with NORAD on one way or another at some time in their careers.

"Not everyone in the RCAF is involved in NORAD," Constable explained. "But it is difficult to spend a career in the RCAF and have nothing to do with NORAD. The extent of NORAD affects many of the communities across our Air Force. I gained an appreciation for it after I joined the military."

Canada and the U.S. are committed partners to ensuring the safety and security of North America.

"Both signed the bi-national NORAD agreement," he said. This details that both nations will station each other's forces, including personnel, in each of their countries and will protect North America from an aerospace attack using each other's assets.

"A lot of people think that by joining an alliance like NORAD, you give up some of your sovereignty," Constable explained. "It's been my experience, though, that it strengthens the sovereignty of both our nations. It is a very realistic way to understand each other, become culturally aware of each other's capabilities, and benefit from the mutual protection NORAD brings. We understand each other's strengths and weaknesses and enjoy a heightened sense of two sovereign nations working together for something bigger than just one nation on its own. That I'm aware of, it's the only bi-national military arrangement of its kind in the world."

Canadians, who are stationed in the U.S., fill joint slots on some U.S. military bases that fulfill the NORAD mission and the U.S. provides manning at some Canadian bases that are part of NORAD. The ANR is manned by members of both the 11th Air Force and the CF.

There are CF personnel employed in numerous JBER units. For example, within the 176th Air Control Squadron, which executes the tactical portion of the ANR mission, Canadians are employed as mission crew commanders, MCC technicians, senior directors, air weapons officers, air surveillance officers and air surveillance technicians.

In addition to those units already mentioned, Canadians are employed at the 381st Alaska Mission Operations Center and the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron.

Constable points out how strong the Canada/U.S. relationship is by highlighting two significant historical events in Alaska involving both Americans and their Canadian allies: the Aleutians Campaign of World War II and the crash of the E-3 sentry, airborne early warning and control aircraft, callsign Yukla 27. "These are bonds forged in the sacrifice of the lives of both our nations' airmen during peace and war," said Constable.

"With about 45 military members in Alaska, plus their families, all told there are about 70 Canadians that call Alaska home for anywhere from two- to four-year tours of duty," Constable summarized. "That's a lot of Canadians, eh?" he joked.

He also pointed out it's not uncommon for some Canadians to complete more than one tour of duty in Alaska.

"We have no trouble attracting CF personnel to Alaska, or even to return here," Constable pointed out. "What's not to love? It's the best of both Canada and the U.S. CF personnel and their families have called Alaska 'home' for nearly 30 years and it's mostly because of NORAD."

Relying on the radar data provided by those ever-watchful sentinels of the Alaskan Radar System, U.S. and Canadian forces work vigilantly to deter, monitor and maintain continuous surveillance of Alaskan airspace. They do their duty - to survey and provide early warning - side-by-side as partners.