A Few Words From Tim Keating

Dec. 1, 2005

Adm. Timothy J. Keating, who led US naval air forces in Gulf War II, is now commander of US Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command. He has led the two homeland-defense-oriented organizations since November 2004. On Sept. 29, he talked with the Defense Writers Group about missile defense, domestic air sovereignty, and coping with disasters.

Learning From Disaster

“In the aftermath of Katrina, we’re doing a ‘lessons learned.’ … We’re more interested in what is it the country would need and identifying that need and then against that need providing a capability. Is it command and control? Is it communications? Is it search and rescue? Is it humanitarian assistance? Is it doctors and nurses to fall in on extant hospitals or is it to bring the whole hospital? So, there’s that fairly broad, extensive list of DOD capabilities that you can kind of pick and choose or send in the main all of it.”

Guard First, Then Actives

“I would favor, all things equal, the current system, where the [National] Guard is trained and equipped to provide first response capabilities with local and state authorities. In the case where those capabilities are overwhelmed or just flat swept away—[in] Katrina there was no communication, the roads were impassable, the first responders weren’t there, they were gone—then I think there is a role to be considered for the active duty forces.”

Fighters for Air Defense

“They’re very important, and we do have enough. A majority, I think the number is 70 percent, … over half of the patrols we fly in … NORAD since 9/11 in Operation Noble Eagle … have been flown by [Air] National Guard forces. So, obviously, it’s very important to us that they remain a viable force, and we think they are. We know they are. They’ve flown 41,000-some sorties … without accident, which is a remarkable testimony to their maintenance folks who are working on the jets, the guys and girls who are flying the jets. So, they are an integral part of our Operation Noble Eagle plan, and we have sufficient assets and sufficient bases to continue that mission.”

Unpredictable Air Patrols

“Our [joint force air component commander], Maj. Gen. [M. Scott] Mayes down at Tyndall [AFB, Fla.], runs the flight schedule. … So he coordinates with all of the active, Reserve, and Guard forces at our disposal and writes the flight schedule. We fuse [intelligence]; we pay very close attention to current threat streams. We watch that we don’t repeat ourselves over certain parts of the country too often, but we want to be unpredictable. And we want the terrorists to know that we’re going to be responsive, we’re up there, and we’re ready. And whether it’s forces that launch out of a certain base and fly a fairly good ways with tanker capability to get to another [combat air patrol] point, or just fly right overhead, … the bad guys just have no chance of figuring out where the jets are, understanding that they are on alert at a large number of bases [around the country] 7/24/365, and can be airborne in less than eight minutes.”

Forces in War, Forces in Peace

“If we [Northern Command] were to ask for [units] specifically, is it, in the larger scheme of things, going to have an adverse impact on overall DOD efforts? And so, Joint Forces Command and the Joint Staff balance that requirement and request very carefully against worldwide needs and give us the green light, … as was demonstrated in Katrina with the 82nd Airborne, 1st [Cavalry Division] out of Ft. Hood [Tex.], Navy forces that were in the area and deployed out of Norfolk [Va.], and Air Force units—principally search and rescue—that came throughout the Southeast United States. In no case were any of those forces on a short tether, if you will, for other DOD obligations worldwide. We pay attention to it, of course, so that when the mission is complete, we can get those forces back to their home base so they can resume their training, … so they can be ready to go if something causes their deployment elsewhere.”

What Katrina Taught

“No. 1 [lesson] was [the need for] getting communications and situational awareness. On the top of our list will be command and control. And it isn’t just between state National Guard and Title X forces; it will be the suite of folks who respond. It includes local traffic cops, local sheriff departments, highway patrolmen, Red Cross personnel, everybody who comes to a scene of a disaster. We have to do a better job of providing reliable, mobile communications capabilities that are interoperable, that are flexible. … We’re going to use some off-the-shelf stuff, and we’re already in discussions with commercial vendors. … As you remember in the aftermath of Sept. 11, I was in the Pentagon that morning. Cell phones didn’t work—BlackBerrys did. … Our lessons learned effort will be an unconstrained, top to bottom review of capabilities desired, capabilities extant in the world today, and then capabilities that will need to be developed. And if it turns out, as an example, that an extant system is survivable, … you can count on it in times of disaster, and it’s relatively inexpensive, we’ll be happy to consider that.”

Raw Power

“If you harnessed all the generators that are at the ground of Niagara Falls, it would take 63 generators 240 days to generate the power that was expended by Katrina on the coast of Louisiana [and] Mississippi. So that’s a big force. A 10 kiloton nuclear bomb … [is] much, much different in its consequences. … The consequences and the management of those consequences, that’s the second part of our mission. If it’s man-made, we’re going to do our best to deter it and defeat it. If it’s natural, we can’t do much about it except deal with the consequences in as rapid and efficient a fashion as we can.”

Missile Defense: We Pull Triggers

“The President hasn’t yet declared … limited defensive operational capability. He has not yet given us that authority. And what you’ll say is, ‘Who’s us?’ Gen. [James E.] Cartwright at [US Strategic Command] is the general overseer of the development of the program, along with Missile Defense Agency [Director] Lt. Gen. [Henry A.] Obering [III]. We at Northern Command and to a slightly lesser extent [US Pacific Command] have been participating in the program development. The current plan has Northern Command being the primary operational arm of the program. That is to say, because we are the geographic command charged with defending America, we will be the folks … who will pull the trigger if ballistic missile defense is required. … Missiles are in the ground, kids are trained, systems are in place.”

Bolt From the Blue

“I can’t order [the PACOM commander to give NORTHCOM the use of his assets], but we would coordinate and then go to the Secretary if there was a heightened sense of alert required. PACOM would move assets in his theater in coordination with Northern Command, as we were the trigger-pullers. … So it would be in coordination directed through the Office of the Secretary of Defense. … There will likely be various alert levels. … What do we know countries are doing? What do our analysts tell us that might mean? Therefore, what sort of alert posture should we adopt? And in the very, very unlikely case of a [ballistic] bolt out of the blue, we have assets in place to deal with that.”

STRATCOM Is “Executive Officer”

“I guess you could say [US Strategic Command is] the chief executive officer. … There are global implications here, and, right now, the system is oriented in a certain direction. As other assets come online internationally, there will be other combatant commanders who will be involved. STRATCOM is Secretary Rumsfeld’s lead for the overarching program, in close coordination with the Missile Defense Agency.”