By xxxBy By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2014 – The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 provided an important reprieve by enabling short-term readiness fixes and selected program buybacks of significant importance, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said today.
But the challenges posed by sequestration and the Budget Control Act remain, Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Defense Department’s ability to plan and decide strategically and find innovative solutions to complex national security challenges is hampered by the budget uncertainty, he said.
“The recent Bipartisan Budget Act only postpones, but does not eliminate, the risks to our future readiness and ability to meet the missions specified in the defense strategic guidance of 2012,” Jacoby said before calling on Congress to find a permanent fix.
The department made a “hard choice” when it implemented the furlough of civilian employees as a cost-cutting measure, the general said. “This decision compromised morale, unsettled families and caused us to break a bond of trust-- one that is absolutely critical to the accomplishment of our mission,” he added.
Equally unsettling, Jacoby said, is that NORAD's ability to execute its primary mission has been subjected to increased risk due to the degradation of Air Force combat readiness.
“With the vigilance and the support of Air Combat Command and the [U.S. Air Forces in Europe], we've been able to sustain our effective day-to-day posture, but that comes at the cost of overall U.S. Air Force readiness, which continues to hover at 50 percent,” the general said.
Threats to national security are becoming more diffuse and less attributable, the general noted. Ultimately, he said, crises elsewhere in the world can rapidly manifest themselves in the United States and make the nation more vulnerable.
“While we stand constant vigil against asymmetric network threat activities, Russian actions in the Ukraine demonstrate that symmetric threats remain,” Jacoby said.“Al-Qaida and transnational criminal networks continue to adapt, and they do so much more quickly than we do.”
To deter and defeat these globally networked threats, the United States must prioritize its support to its partners in the law enforcement community and the international community, the general said.
And,“tangible evidence of North Korean and Iranian ambitions confirms that a limited ballistic missile threat to the homeland has matured from a theoretical to a practical consideration,” he added.
Northcom and NORAD are working with the Missile Defense Agency to address concerns about the potential for proliferation of these lethal technologies, Jacoby said. Together, the three agencies are investing in a “tailored solution to address the challenges that advancing missile technologies impose on our ballistic missile defense system architecture,” he noted.
Northcom and NORAD are working together to address a variety of other challenges, the general said. As seasonal ice decreases, for example, the Arctic is evolving into an increasingly important strategic issue, he told the Senate panel.
“Therefore, we continue to work with our premier Arctic partner, Canada, and other stakeholders to develop our communications domain awareness infrastructure and presence in order to enable safety, security, and defense in the far north,”Jacoby said.
Maintaining an in-depth defense of the nation requires partnerships with neighboring countries, the general said.
“Our futures are inextricably bound together. And this needs to be a good thing in the security context,” he said. “The stronger and safer they are, the stronger our partnerships, the safer we all are collectively. And this creates our common, competitive security advantage for North America.”
Northcom also stands ready to respond to national security events and to support the federal response to man-made or natural disasters, he said.
“Our challenge remains to not be late to need,” the general said. “The men and women of Northcom and NORAD proudly remain vigilant and ready, as we stand watch over North America and adapt to the uncertainty of the global security environment and fiscal realities.”
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter @rouloafps)