Gen. Charles Jacoby is commander of US Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. (Tech. Sgt. Thomas Doscher/US Defense Department)
The Pentagon has placed an emphasis on defense of the US, and Army Gen. Charles Jacoby has been in charge of aligning US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) with those priorities. Among the changes since he took over the command in 2011 is the addition of a subordinate special operations command. Jacoby is also overseeing a NORAD strategic review.
He is expected to step down as the NORTHCOM-NORAD commander in the coming months, with Adm. William Gortney nominated to replace him. The next assignment for Jacoby has not been announced.
Q. How is the US budget situation affecting NORTHCOM?
A. The budget comes at [combat commanders] two principle ways: One is through direct reductions in either monies or people, and the other is through decreases or challenges to service readiness and availability. From that standpoint one of the things that came out of the [quadrennial defense review] was that the homeland got some recognition as a priority. We’ve done a rebalance to the Pacific, but in a lot of meaningful ways we’ve also done a rebalance to the homeland.
We know that our midterm and long-term requirements are very much at risk. In light of the Bipartisan Budget Act, services were able to buy back readiness and that’s helpful to combatant commanders. The bipartisan budget agreement is a Band-Aid fix. I think we did the morally responsible thing, which is take available monies that are given back and use it against readiness. Strategically if we don’t get out of a return to the sequester levels, I believe there are serious impacts on the combatant commands down the road, particularly in its ready forces and its ability to do shaping and partner-building capacity type submissions.
We were given five years to take our [mandated] 20 percent [headquarters] cut. When we reviewed the bidding it ended up being an 18 percent cut because the NORAD component to my headquarters [was not cut]. But that 18 percent cut we’re going to take over five years. That time allows us to not fill empty slots and not backfill retirements and then take measured reorganizations that allow us to absorb the cut. But the bottom line is you don’t do more with less, you don’t do the same with less, you do less with less. You know of what combatant commanders’ headquarters do primarily — planning, training, exercising and operating. We will do less and we will be less efficient at it.
Q. On readiness, assuming sequestration goes away, when would you get back to pre-2013 readiness levels?
A. That will depend on each service getting behind those priorities. What impacts us on an everyday basis is, what are the emerging requirements? When you are dealing just with available readiness dollars and you’re unable to make strategic choices, and I want to be clear that’s what I think [makes] sequestration most harmful. It’s not just readiness but an inability to make good strategic choices. What sequestration is, it’s programmed uncertainty. And that really denies folks the ability to make big strategic kinds of reductions or readjustments of the force.
Q. Can you talk about the strategic review of NORAD?
A. It was directed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chief of Defense Staff in Canada. One of the things that came out of the 9/11 Commission report was that terrorists can pose a threat to the homeland, but it kind of said NORAD didn’t really make a case for that. This is a more formal way for us to make a case to what we need to do to stay relevant in the future. We are deliberately moving out on a review that looks at the threat assessment, readiness assessment and program assessment processes that we need to put in place or revitalize, as the case may be, to ensure that we’re staying ahead of the threat. The threat to North America is changing and increasing as time goes by, and that includes cyber threats, threats to space, changing in the extremist threat to North America, changing in some of the more conventional threats and making sure that NORAD is positioned to keep faith with the agreement. It’s about making sure that we’re organized and programming properly and that we’re keeping track of the readiness requirements that NORAD has.
Q. How does the relationship between NORTHCOM and US Cyber Command [CYBERCOM] work? Is it like US Strategic Command’s [STRATCOM’S] relationship to a geographical combatant command?
A. The duality of CYBERCOM [and the National Security Agency] is a powerful construct that supports geographic combatant commanders very, very well. It provides us intelligence support on cyber and technical support on cyber — similar to how STRATCOM provides us the technical support to do our missile warning job as NORAD and space capabilities to do all of our missions that are space-reliant. CYBERCOM is a supporting command to geographic combatant commanders, and as a supporting command we’re still executing the original concept of building cyber teams across a couple different functions of cyber activities. Those teams are beginning to get fielded. We just stood up our first joint cyber center and [are] fielding a cyber defense team with the help of CYBERCOM. Also, CYBERCOM has terrific relationships across the inter-agency where we’re still sorting out lanes in the road between cyber legal issues, cybersecurity issues and cyber defense issues. CYBERCOM has led the way in developing those relationships — with [the Department of Homeland Security], with FBI with other agencies that have a stake in cyber — and helps us with those relationships, for instance, if we’re ever called on to provide defense support to civil authorities in cyber business.
Q. What is the mission of Special Operations North [SOCNORTH]?
A. The role of the armed forces in the homeland is rightfully constrained by law, custom, policy and tradition. That’s who we are and we embrace that. There are very, very few Title 10 missions in the homeland. One of them is Noble Eagle, the aerospace defense. Then there’s the few special missions that deal with weapons of mass destruction, but everything else we’re doing — short of transitioning to some kind of war footing — is supporting other agencies. We have traditionally been doing a lot of work using special operations forces as partners — with other countries in North America, with law enforcement, with local agencies where we have special capabilities that others might want to take advantage of. We’ve always had that going on, out in the open. But we’ve never had a commander in charge of that; it’s run out of a staff section. And I felt and [US Special Operations Command boss] Adm. [William] McRaven felt that it was so important that you put a commander in charge if you want to do it right, so that’s what SOCNORTH is about.
It gives us an insight into SOCOM’s view of global threat networks. Now that we’re plugged into that network, we have a much better understanding and feel for the threats in the US through our connection with the global [special operations] enterprise.
Q. Has there been an uptick in Russian aircraft flying close to the US?
A. Starting in 2007, we saw Russian long-range aviation return to some old operating patterns that we’d seen during the Cold War — of unwanted, unannounced military flight activity by strategic systems close to our air space. We’ve seen that go up and down a little but steadily increase over the intervening seven years, and a lot of it depends on their exercise cycle or what’s going on in the world.
But we have seen that it’s increasingly sophisticated [and] increasingly capable. In the past we had sought any opportunity to partner and work with the Russians but they have not stopped the unwanted, unannounced flights. So we’ve very matter-of-factly and calmly maintained our deterrent posture, which demonstrates to them that [we] have capability and intention of defending our airspace and at the same time looking for opportunities to cooperate with them on other things. Now that’s kind of evaporated since the start of the Ukraine business. I will tell you, though, that in the Russian long-range aviation, you see a similar expenditure of resources to improve their capability that you see across the array of their capabilities, from conventional to special to strategic forces.
Q. So you’re seeing aircraft upgrades?
A. Yes. They are much, much better than they ever were during the Cold War.
Q. Could you talk about the recent missile defense intercept?
A. This was a really important test. It should give a lot of folks confidence in the system. I have testified that I have confidence in the system and that we account for the fact that we hadn’t tested adequately in the past. We are testing adequately now. This is proven technology, it’s not just proven in national missile defense or midcourse, it’s proven in [terminal high-altitude area defense], in Patriot, in the SM3 series of missiles. This a terrific test for the Missile Defense Agency and it allows people to give the support that we really need to turn this into a very practical capable system. It’s a system that can meet the current threat, but it’s also a system that needs to evolve to meet the future threat that we can see coming. ■