WASHINGTON — The upcoming budget request could include investments in maritime domain awareness close to home, with improved sensors to detect Russian naval threats to the homeland.
Commander of U.S. Northern Command Gen. Glen VanHerck told the House Armed Services Committee the technologies the U.S. needs to bolster its homeland defense against Russian submarines and missiles are currently available and in use by other countries around the world — meaning the Defense Department could move out quickly on buying and fielding them.
“Russia is the primary military threat to the homeland,” he wrote in written testimony ahead of a March 8 hearing before the committee, adding that “Russia has fielded a new family of advanced air-, sea-, and ground-based cruise missiles to threaten critical civilian and military infrastructure.”
“The AS-23a air-launched cruise missile, for instance, features an extended range that enables Russian bombers flying well outside NORAD radar coverage — and in some cases from inside Russian airspace — to threaten targets throughout North America. This capability challenges my ability to detect an attack and mount an effective defense. In the maritime domain, Russia has fielded the first two of their nine planned Severodvinsk-class guided missile submarines, which are designed to deploy undetected within cruise missile range of our coastlines to threaten critical infrastructure during an escalating crisis. This challenge will be compounded in the next few years as the Russian Navy adds the Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile to the Severodvinsk’s arsenal,” his written testimony continues.
During the hearing, Rep. Joe Courtney, the Democrat from Connecticut who chairs HASC’s seapower and projection forces committee, asked about two solutions VanHerck mentioned in the written testimony: an Integrated Undersea Surveillance System and an Over-the-Horizon Radar system.
Courtney said the Severodvinsk submarines, also called Yasen-class attack subs, are typically thought of as a U.S. European Command problem, not a NORTHCOM one, and he wanted to know what those two sensor systems would mean for homeland defense and if they could be set up quickly.
VanHerck said modernizing and expanding the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System would be a collaboration between the U.S. Navy and partners such as Canada to “track and maintain awareness of submarine positions around the globe. [It’s] a very challenging environment in the central Atlantic, when they get on the mid-Atlantic ridge, to be able to track them — so to be able to hold them accountable, if you will, before they become a threat is important.”
The general elaborated in his written remarks that the ability to see the adversary is, itself, a form of deterrence.
“I need improved domain awareness to increase warning time and provide leaders at all levels with as many options as possible to deter or defend against an attack. Global all-domain awareness will generate a significant deterrent effect by making it clear that we can see potential aggressors wherever they are, which inherently casts doubt on their ability to achieve their objectives,” he wrote.
VanHerck told Courtney that NORTHCOM would continue to work with EUCOM on the undersea surveillance system, and that it would also need to be fielded in the Pacific as well. He expressed confidence that the fiscal 2023 budget request would show support for this initiative.
On the Over-the-Horizon Radar system, VanHerck said this system would look out about 4,000 miles in the maritime, air and space domains. Traditional radar systems are limited by the curvature of Earth, and this new system would give significantly better early warning capability compared to existing systems.
“OTHR is a proven technology that will provide persistent surveillance of the distant northern approaches to the United States and mitigate the limitations of the Cold War-era North Warning System, while contributing to broader domain awareness challenges including space domain awareness. The ability to detect air-breathing and spaceborne threats in the approaches to Canada and the United States will be significantly enhanced by fielding OTHR as soon as possible,” he wrote in his testimony.
VanHerck said the radar is “something we can move out on relatively quickly, as well as undersea surveillance,” given that the technology already exists and is in use by other nations.
The general made clear in his written testimony, though, that the quick fielding of these two systems is just a first step in protecting the homeland from increasingly sophisticated Russian submarine threats.
“Russia has the capability today to hold targets in the United States and Canada at risk with long-range air- and submarine-launched conventional cruise missiles. These highly precise and stealthy systems highlight the need for policy determinations regarding what must be defended along with continued demonstrations of resiliency and hardening,” he wrote.
In addition to fielding the sensor systems and sharing the collected data globally, to “successfully deter aggression and defend the homeland, we must be able to detect and track the submarines, aircraft, and surface ships that carry weapons systems capable of striking the homeland before they depart from their home stations. We also need to improve our capability to defeat those launch platforms before they are within range of their targets.”
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.