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NEWS | March 24, 2023

Generals discuss hemispheric challenges, solutions

By xxxDave Vergun DOD News

The two combatant commanders of the Western Hemisphere testified on national and regional security at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing March 23. 

Army Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander, U.S. Southern Command, and Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, said Russia and China are meddling in Western Hemisphere affairs. 

"While the United States military remains the most powerful and professional force in history, we have to account for the recent erosion of military advantage and take actions now to invest in modernization, implement innovative processes, prioritize our personnel and civilian hiring practices and increase agile decision-making at all levels," VanHerck said.  

Russia and China have the capability and intent to hold the United States at risk to achieve their strategic objectives, he added. 

Those nations have fielded cruise missiles, delivery platforms and nonkinetic capabilities to hold at risk critical military and civilian infrastructure in the United States and Canada, he said. 

"Those capabilities allow them to strike with limited warning and significant consequences. Limited warning, due to a lack of all-domain awareness, inherently limits the decision space and options available to our national leaders, which increases the risk of miscalculation and escalation," he said, referring to the domains of air, land, sea, space and cyber. 

To address these threats, VanHerck said his four strategic priorities have been domain awareness, information dominance, decision superiority and global integration.  

Those priorities are critical to successfully defending the homeland and to providing national leaders with time to formulate deterrence options and, if required, defend and defeat options, he said. 

There's been some notable progress toward these key priorities, he said, including development of over-the-horizon radars that will significantly improve air, maritime and space domain awareness and the ability to detect and track threats well before they reach North America.  

"But we need to go faster. An acquisition plan based on more than a decade is too long," he said.  

Both the Defense Department and the Canadian Department of National Defense have committed to funding over-the-horizon radar capabilities, he noted.  

Likewise, Space Force’s investment in advanced space-based warning capabilities and the Navy's commitment to modernizing the integrated undersea surveillance system are vital to the homeland defense mission, he said. 

"Continued progress will require the department and Congress to accept some risk by prioritizing modernization and innovation over maintaining obsolete platforms, organizations and infrastructure and occasionally accepting failure as part of the process," VanHerck said. 

Also, the department must invest in civilian and military personnel recruiting, hiring and retention, he said. 

Additionally, the department must continue to build on its advantages that come through our international alliances and partnerships, he said. 

Richardson said no region impacts the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere.  

"This region, our shared neighborhood, is under assault from a host of crosscutting, transboundary challenges that directly threaten our homeland," she said.  

Nations in the Western Hemisphere are feeling the impacts of external interference and coercion, she said. China continues to expand its economic, diplomatic, technological, informational and military influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, Richardson said. 

China has expanded its ability to extract resources and gets 36% of its food imports from the region and 75% of its lithium from South America. China also leads the hemisphere in illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing, raiding the fish of coastal countries and costing an enormous profit loss, she said. 

Also, China has also established ports in multiple countries, manipulated governments through predatory investment practices, and built potential dual-use space facilities, she said. 

Russia and China bolster authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and continue to have an extensive disinformation campaign in the region, she said. 

Both China and Russia exploit the presence of transnational criminal organizations and amplify their destabilizing impacts on democratic governments, she said. 

"We must use all available levers to strengthen our partnerships with the 28 like-minded democracies in the region, who understand the power of working together to counter these shared threats," Richardson said.