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JBSA News
NEWS | March 9, 2022

SOUTHCOM commander: Partnerships key to national defense in western hemisphere

By C. TODD LOPEZ DOD News

In just four months of leading U.S. Southern Command, there’s one thing that's become apparent to Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson. The key to addressing security threats in South America, and by extension to the U.S. itself, doesn't just lie with America's own military but with the militaries of the partner nations already there. 

Multiple military personnel stand around a digital sand table.
Southern Vanguard
U.S. and Brazilian army soldiers plan and prepare for Exercise Southern Vanguard 22 at the 5th Light Infantry Battalion in Lorena, Brazil, Dec. 5, 2021.
Photo By: Army Pfc. Joshua Taeckens
VIRIN: 211205-A-JF826-1081M
Military personnel stand around a piece of military hardware.
210609-A-MC386-0004
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st. Class Quentrell Nelson, team sergeant for Field Artillery Advisor Team 1412, 5th Battalion, 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, observes members of the Honduran Armed Forces Army participate in a field artillery training on 4th Artillery Battalion, Choluteca, Department of Honduras, June 9, 2021.
Photo By: Army Spc. Katelyn Strange
VIRIN: 210609-A-MC386-0004M

"In my initial travels in the region, it has become obvious to me that our partners are our best defense," Richardson told members of the House Armed Services Committee March 8. "We must use all available levers to strengthen our partnerships with the 28 like-minded democracies in this hemisphere, who understand the power of working together to counter these shared threats." 

Threats in South America, Richardson said, include transnational criminal organization as well as the meddling of both China and Russia. 

In South America, she said, China continues to expand economic, diplomatic, technological, informational and military influence, which challenges U.S. influence in those areas. 

Two individuals sit on a snowmobile. In the background is an airplane.
Arctic Edge
Green Berets use a snowmobile near a C-130 Hercules aircraft during the ARCTIC EDGE 2022 exercise at Fairbanks International Airport, Fairbanks, Alaska, March 2, 2022.
Photo By: Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Bryant
VIRIN: 220302-A-YT230-4715M

"Without U.S. leadership, negative PRC influence in this region could soon resemble the self-serving predatory influence it now holds in Africa," she said. 

Also, a threat in South America is Russia, Richardson said. 

"Russia, a more immediate threat, is increasing its engagements in the hemisphere, as Putin looks to keep his options open and maintain relationships in our neighborhood," she said. 

Earlier this year, Russia's deputy prime minister, Yury Borisov, said he could neither affirm nor exclude Russia would send military assets to Cuba or Venezuela, Richardson told lawmakers. 

Seven military personnel ride a small boat on a waterway.
Traveling a Waterway
U.S. and Colombian military personnel travel a waterway in central Colombia in April 2021.
Photo By: Army Richard Bumgardner
VIRIN: 210405-A-JJ298-008M

Then, just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Borisov visited Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. All are nations Richardson said maintain close ties with Russia and which offer Russia a foothold in the western hemisphere. 

"Finally, recent visits between the presidents of Brazil and Argentina with Putin in Russia, demonstrate and concerning potential broadening of Russian ties in the region," she said. 

Farther north, Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command said the U.S. needs to do more to be ready for operations in the Arctic. 

Two men stand near each other outdoors in a winter environment. One is holding a radio and a compass.
211210-F-WW501-1133
Senior Airman Kyle Dige teaches students how to vector a rescue helicopter December 10, 2021, on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Keith Holcomb
VIRIN: 211210-F-WW501-1133M

One thing he said is needed now is presence and persistence in the Arctic, and all the infrastructure required to do that. That could include, he said, maritime infrastructure, such as ports deep enough for cruisers, destroyers or Coast Guard cutters, for instance. 

Also needed are communications capabilities to operate north of the 65th parallel and infrastructure from which to operate daily air missions not only in Alaska but across Canada and into Greenland as well. 

One lawmaker asked VanHerck how Northern Command plans to improve training for U.S. forces to ensure they are ready to operate in the Arctic. 

A piece of military hardware sits on the snow. The sky is illuminated with greenish lights.
Arctic Enchantment
The Northern Lights glow behind an Army Patriot M903 launcher station at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, March 5, 2022, during exercise Arctic Edge 2022. The exercise is designed to provide realistic and effective training for participants using the premier training locations available throughout Alaska.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Joseph P. LeVeille
VIRIN: 220305-F-EI268-1046M

Right now, VanHerck said, the U.S. doesn't have a ready force to operate in the Arctic, but he said he hopes he'll see efforts to fix that in the fiscal year 2023 budget. 

"I'm ... encouraged by the strategies -- the department has a strategy and the services all have strategies," he said. "Now the question is, are we going to fund those strategies? I look forward to seeing the FY23 budget to see if we do fund as part of the Arctic strategy, the actual capabilities that you're talking about."