Order Code RS21322
Updated October 11, 2007
Evolving Roles and Missions
for United States Northern Command
William Knight and Steve Bowman
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
In 2002, the Department of Defense (DOD) established United States Northern
Command (NORTHCOM). Five years later, the organization continues to mature and
adapt to evolving national homeland security policy. Current issue areas for Congress
include DOD reorganization, formalizing interagency processes and an increasing
reliance on Reserve Component forces. This report will be updated as events dictate.
In 2002 President Bush signed a new Unified Command Plan (UCP) establishing
NORTHCOM to provide command and control of DOD’s homeland defense efforts and
to coordinate military support to civil authorities.1 A regional combatant command, its
area of responsibility (AOR) includes the continental United States, Alaska, Canada,
Mexico and surrounding waters out to approximately 500 nautical miles, including the
Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida.2 The NORTHCOM Commander also
commands North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a bi-national U.S.
and Canadian organization charged with air and maritime warning and airspace control.3
See Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-26, “Homeland Security,” August 2,
2005, II-7 for combatant command roles in Homeland Security.
Hawaii and Pacific territories and possessions are in U.S. Pacific Command AOR while Puerto
Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in U.S. Southern Command’s AOR.
NORAD and NORTHCOM are separate entities. NORAD was established by treaty, and in
May 2006, NORAD’s maritime warning mission was added.
NORTHCOM, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, CO, employs
approximately 1,200 DOD civilians, contractors, and service members from each service
component. Most U.S. military personnel also serve in NORAD positions, except in the
operations directorate. NORTHCOM has several subordinate component commands to
execute its mission. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps components are assigned to
NORTHCOM, while Navy Fleet Forces Command is a supporting component. These
forces do not report directly to NORTHCOM unless assigned from U.S. Joint Forces
Command (JFCOM).4 This relationship with JFCOM is how most NORTHCOM forces
are obtained to execute specific missions. Joint Task Forces (JTF) provide organizational
skeletons for gained forces to fill out based on missions assigned to each JTF. The
following summarizes direct-reporting NORTHCOM components:
Army North (ARNORTH). Based at Fort Sam Houston, TX, 5th Army assumed
responsibility for its NORTHCOM mission in October 2005. Commanded by an active
duty three-star general, this organization shed its traditional role of training reservists to
focus on supporting civil authorities. It assigns Defense Coordinating Officers (DCO) to
all ten Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional offices to streamline
DOD coordination. During crisis response, DCOs are augmented by additional personnel
to facilitate NORTHCOM support.5
Air Force North (AFNORTH). First Air Force is headquartered at Tyndall Air
Force Base, FL, and in February 2006 it was designated as NORTHCOM’s air
component. The organization is commanded by an Air National Guard two-star general
who serves as a NORAD air defense commander. In addition to using Canadian and U.S.
aircraft on alert, the command is expanding the use of mobile ground-based air defense
systems and unmanned aerial vehicles. It also maintains a joint air surveillance system
with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).6
Marine Forces North (MARFORNORTH). In the fall of 2004, DOD designated
Marine Forces Reserve Command in New Orleans, LA, as a NORTHCOM component.
The reserve three-star Marine commander is responsible for force-protection of Marine
installations and coordinating Marine forces assigned to NORTHCOM. Additionally, to
assist NORTHCOM civil support planning, the command has thirty-two Marine
Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officers (EPLO) focused on specific FEMA regions.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 20 of the 32 EPLOs worked in various FEMA,
DOD and state operations centers to coordinate Marine support.7
Testimony of Commander, U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, before the
Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14, 2006.
“Theater-level Command Expands Homeland Security Mission,” Homeland Defense Watch,
October 25, 2005.
Carlos Munoz, “AFNORTH Will Rely More on Ground Based Mobile Defense Systems,”
Inside the Air Force, July 7, 2006, vol 7, no. 27.
Statement of Commander Marine Forces North, Lt General Jack W. Bergman before the
Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, July 19, 2006.
Joint Task Force North (JTF-N). Established in September 2004, JTF-N aids
law enforcement agencies protecting U.S. borders. The Fort Bliss, TX-based unit
inherited 15 years of interagency experience from its predecessor JTF-6. The former
worked counter-drug operations on the southern border while the latter now has a broader
homeland defense focus as it integrates military capabilities with federal, state and local
law enforcement. In addition to exercises and planning, JTF-N operations include
reconnaissance, surveillance, detection and infrastructure construction missions that
often leverage military units training for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.8
Standing Joint Forces Headquarters North (SJFHQ-N). Headquartered at
Peterson, SJFHQ-N began operations in January 2004. Its mission is to maintain
situational awareness across NORTHCOM’s AOR. SJFHQ-N is designed to provide
command and control for contingency situations, and has the ability to forward deploy
elements when required.9
Joint Task Force Alaska (JTF-AK). JTF-AK is headquartered at Elmendorf Air
Force Base, AK, and is tasked to coordinate land defense and DOD support to civil
authorities in Alaska.10
Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS). Headquartered at Fort Monroe in
Hampton, VA, this JTF assists the lead federal agency managing the consequences of a
chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive incident in the U.S. or
its territories and possessions. It was established in 1999 under U.S. Joint Forces
Command and its coordination with agencies like FEMA is more mature. The JTF is also
working with state National Guard civil support teams as they become operational.11
Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region (JFHQ-NCR).
Activated in June 2003, this JTF is located at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, DC.
It facilitates planning, training and exercising among four local service components.
Additionally, they coordinate with Coast Guard District 5, the DHS Office of National
Capitol Region and other federal, state and local agencies to ensure unity of effort in the
event of manmade or natural catastrophes.12
Joint Interagency Coordination Group (JIACG). To facilitate interagency
relationships, NORTHCOM has liaisons from more than 60 federal and non-federal
agencies at Peterson. Liaisons provide subject matter expertise and direct lines of
communication with their parent organizations. Some non-DOD agencies represented
include the Central Intelligence Agency, FAA, Federal Bureau of Investigation,
Statement of Director of Operations, Joint Task Force North, Col Paul R. Disney, to the House
Armed Services committee, August 1, 2006.
US Northern Command website, [http://www.northcom.mil/About/index.html#SJFHQN].
“NORTHCOM Agency Helps Civil Authorities Prepare for WMD Events,” US Fed News,
January, 10, 2007.
Testimony of Commander, Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region, Major General
Guy C. Swan III, before the House Committee on Government Reform July 21, 2006.
Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Geological Survey, as well as several
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) organizations like Customs and Border Patrol,
FEMA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Transportation Security
Administration (TSA).13 The JIACG also does focused planning on specific issues with
potential nationwide impact. For example, in August 2006, representatives from the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services
(HHS) met with members of the JIACG to ensure mutually supporting efforts and
eliminate redundancy in responding to potential pandemic flu.14
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DOD has 65 personnel working
in DHS and senior officials from both organizations meet daily at the principal and deputy
level.15 There are also NORTHCOM personnel assigned to DHS components such as the
DCOs in FEMA regions. Likewise, through a memorandum of understanding, the U.S.
Coast Guard (USCG) has 20 personnel serving on the NORTHCOM headquarters staff
facilitating regular discussions for maritime homeland defense roles and responsibilities.16
National Guard. Although the National Guard Bureau (NGB) is a DOD
organization, day-to-day most national guard forces report to their state leadership. In the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, NORTHCOM and the NGB took steps to improve
coordination with and oversight of National Guard forces serving in state and federal
roles. These steps include a formal policy on command, control and communications; an
advisory board to expedite solutions for improving information sharing; and more than
87 NORTHCOM mobile training team visits to demonstrate collaborative tools to the
NGB joint operations center and state level guard headquarters.17
International Security Cooperation
Canada. In December 2002, Canada and the United States established a Binational Planning Group at NORAD/NORTHCOM headquarters to review theater
cooperation in the post 9/11 security environment. The 50-person military team dissolved
in May 2006 after submitting a final report with 62 recommendations. Some
recommendations, like authority for WMD teams to cross the border, will require
legislative action. However, most, like protocols for information sharing between
NORAD, NORTHCOM and Canada Command, could be orchestrated under existing
laws and the NORAD agreement.18
Testimony of Commander, U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, before the
Senate Armed Services Committee on March 14, 2006.
“USNORTHCOM Hosts Work Group for Pandemic Influenza Planning,” US Fed News,
August 25, 2006.
Interview with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Paul McHale, in Joint
Forces Quarterly, issue 40, 1st Quarter 2006, p. 11.
Testimony of Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, before the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security on September 7, 2006.
Testimony by Commander, U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating, before the
Commission on the National Guard and Reserves on May 3rd, 2006.
“Canadian-US Planning Group calls for C4 cooperation,” Aerospace Daily & Defense Report,
April 26th, 2006, Vol 218, No. 18.
Mexico. Theater security cooperation with Mexico is limited to anti-drug
trafficking operations and senior officer visits with Mexican counterparts. The former is
a continuation of JTF-6 interactions while the latter has proven difficult because the
Mexican defense establishment lacks a natural entry point for combatant command level
engagement. Mexican defense leaders have historically interacted with the Office of the
Secretary of Defense because Mexico was not assigned to a combatant command’s
Issues for Congress
DOD Reorganization/Unified Command Plan (UCP). Congress approved
DOD’s request for a tenth assistant secretary of defense (ASD) to facilitate the
reorganization of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy [OUSD (P)].
The conference report for the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act expressed several
concerns about the reorganization including the ASD for Homeland Defense inheriting
a Western Hemisphere focus.20 DOD intended for the reorganization to streamline
combatant command interactions with OUSD (P). However, the proposed reorganization
appears to create more rather than fewer entry points to navigate. For example, the ASD
for Homeland Defense and Americas Affairs as well as the new ASD for Global Security
Policy both appear to have NORTHCOM interests. Likewise, DOD has currently only
filled two of five ASD billets within OUSD (P). As DOD reorganizes its policy staff,
some may call for major changes to the UCP. On October 1, 2007, DOD stood up Africa
Command, and after only five years in existence, NORTHCOM’s geographic AOR
continues to be refined. A May 2006 revision of the UCP shifted the Aleutian Islands
from PACOM to NORTHCOM while moving Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and the
U.S. Virgin Islands from NORTHCOM to SOUTHCOM.21 There may be merit to further
examining combatant command boundaries particularly between NORTHCOM and U.S.
Southern and Pacific Commands.
Interagency Relationships/Katrina Lessons. Based on Hurricane Katrina
lessons learned, DOD and DHS have taken several steps to improve coordination.
Several NORTHCOM components have assigned missions that focus on military
assistance to civil authorities. Likewise, NORTHCOM continues to make tangible efforts
to improve cooperation and coordination with National Guard forces as well as key
partners like FEMA. For example NORTHCOM, NGB and FEMA partnered to purchase
twenty-two identical deployable cellular communication systems to improve coordinated
emergency response capability.22
With the focus on interagency coordination, some are calling for legislation to codify
processes with something similar to the Goldwater-Nichols Act that reorganized DOD.
John A. Cope, “A Prescription for Protecting the Southern Approach,” Joint Forces Quarterly,
issue 42, 3rd quarter 2006, pg 19.
Conference Report on H.R. 5122, “John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal
Year 2007,” p. H8426.
“Bush Approves Update to Unified Command Plan, Assigns New Missions,” Inside Missile
Defense, Vol 12, June 7th, 2006.
Bob Brewin, “Northcom Beefs up Emergency Response: New Organization Structure Brings
NGOs & private sector into Command Center,” Federal Computer Week, December 18, 2006.
Section 1035 of the 2007 NDAA (PL 109-364) directed the President to provide
Congress a report on improving interagency support. While the report focused on better
DOD and civilian executive branch integration, homeland security requires cooperation
across the full spectrum of federal, state, and local agencies. Likewise, some question the
advisability of creating additional layers at the federal level as it may make it difficult for
state and local interaction with federal agencies.
Increased Reliance on Reserve components. Nearly 150 reserve and
national guard members staff NORTHCOM headquarters including five general officers.
Its Air Force and Marine Components are reserve commands that have full time missions;
JTF-CS is primarily a reserve organization, and JTF-N relies on reserve component units
to conduct operations. Likewise, the NCR Integrated Air Defense System is operated by
National Guard forces in Title 10 status and since 9/11 over 70% of the nation’s air
defense sorties have been flown by reserve component forces.23 Recent trends indicate
NORTHCOM will increase reliance on reserve component forces to support civil
authorities. Reserve component forces are also deploying overseas in large numbers for
other combatant commanders. As mobilizations continue and homeland security missions
increase, more reserve component forces are serving in full time status. This may create
near- and long-term resource issues for the reserve components.
The National Guard’s unique dual status was also addressed in proposed legislation
(H.R. 5200) that would require NORTHCOM’s deputy commander to be a national guard
officer. This issue along with the elevation of the NGB Chief to a four-star general with
a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) was deferred to the Commission on the National
Guard and Reserves. While the Commission recommended the NGB Chief position be
elevated to a four-star general, it did not recommend giving the NGB Chief a seat on the
JCS. Furthermore, the Commission recommended that either the commander of deputy
commander of NORTHCOM be filled by a reserve component officer, but it
recommended against adding a second deputy commander billet to allow both active duty
and reserve component representation at the deputy level.24
Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) Realignment. In July
2006, NORTHCOM announced the CMOC was undergoing an 18-month transition with
day-to-day operations moving from the underground complex 15 miles west of Peterson
to a combined NORAD/NORTHCOM Command Center at Peterson. The Cold War
vintage facility will remain in a “standby” status, and be used for exercises or
contingencies. NORTHCOM believes the combined command center will increase unity
of effort and operational effectiveness, enabling an effective response to a full spectrum
of threats.25 However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has voiced concern
over costs as well as incomplete analyses of security implications and operational effects
of the proposed moves.26
Testimony of Commander, U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Timothy J. Keating before the
Commission on National Guard and Reserves on May 3, 2006.
Commission on National Guard and Reserves, Second Report to Congress, March 1, 2007, pp.
Armed Forces Press Service, “NORAD, NORTHCOM Personnel to Move,” July 31, 2006.
GAO, Defense Infrastructure: Full Costs and Security Implications of Cheyenne Mountain
Realignment Have Not Been Determined, GAO-07-803R, Washington, DC, May 21, 2007, p. 4.