Here’s Looking at NORAD/NORTHCOM’s Way Ahead, or, Deterrence and Punishment

(Note second comment for another relevant SLCM map–how much ASW done off western coast of North America? Radar detecting capabilities vs cruise missiles?)

Further to this May 2021 post,

NORAD (and NORTHCOM) Thinking Offense of some sort vs Russian Threats–what does Canadian Government Think?

a few excerpts below from a paper by two very knowledgeable professors at the University of Manitoba, published in Strategic Studies Quarterly (Volume 15 Issue 4 – Winter 2021) of the Air University of the US Air Force.

The paper highlights the pretty urgent need to upgrade NORAD’s detection and defence capabilities, together with US Northern Command, to handle notably increased threats from Russia stemming from technological advances (cruise missiles, hypersonics) and greater resources for them. And then there is the PRC on the rise…Surely working towards defensive denial against some types of attacks beats relying almost completely on punishment? (Though the nature of punishment may be partially shifting in this cyber world.)

North America’s Imperative: Strengthening Deterrence by Denial

Andrea Charron

James Fergusson

In today’s threat environment, adversaries can hold the continent hostage unless leaders can bolster its deterrence posture. Rather than deterrence by punishment, however, the focus of NORAD, USNORTHCOM, and the Canadian Joint Operations Command must be on deterrence by denial and increasing the costs of actions by adversaries should they pursue an attack on North America…

This analysis briefly examines the strategic logic underpinning the need to modernize North American defense, focusing primarily on NORAD and deterrence by denial. It is vital that structural changes to the North American deterrence posture, including necessary investments, are made to alter adversarial perceptions so that North America cannot be held hostage. Beyond the need to modernize NORAD’s early warning and defense control capabilities to meet the new threat environment, both countries must modernize NORAD—the organization—and rethink the importance of protecting the North American homeland…


Alongside detection, defense is the second capability component of a credible North American denial deterrent. As with detection, existing gaps may affect adversary and North American (Canada and the United States) deterrence calculations. Several stand out in the traditional defense domains. Assuming Canada agrees on a CF-18 replacement and given the presence of US anti- cruise missile interceptors, the question becomes whether intercept density relative to NORAD’s assigned assets is sufficient to defend against cruise missile threats.

NORAD is also looking at existing northern forward operating loca-
tions and other possible locations farther south to meet maritime threats and potentially provide some form of layered defense. Additionally, there is a recognized requirement for in- flight refueling capabilities, and the deployment of anti-cruise missile point defenses must be considered. These factors strongly suggest more resources need to be dedicated to the air defense component of North American deterrence and then integrated into the detection side of the equation [emphasis added, esp. by Canada].

Maritime Complexity

…major surface combatants (including the future Royal Canadian Navy combat vessel) need to deploy sufficient anti- cruise missile air defenses [vs SLCMs launched from Russian subs and surface ships–see this post: “US Navy Talks Up Steps it’s Taking vs Russian Subs/Cruise Missiles in North Atlantic–why not Royal Canadian Navy? (Note Norway UPPESTDATE)“–and note image at top of the post], and these defenses need to be integrated into NORAD’s air defense assets. At a minimum, the role of maritime assets must be fully integrated into NORAD exercises to bolster North American deterrence requirements…


From the perspective of North American homeland defense and security, the current CANUS command structure and capabilities are locked into an exclusive deterrence-by-denial posture. Punishment as an alternative is not an option, which does not mean that an adversary does not confront a credible punishment threat. Rather, the punishment threat and thus punishment capabilities reside elsewhere and are exclusively American [emphasis added–but US thinking seems working towards giving NORTHCOM/NORAD a role in punishment, see this post: “Rethinking and Remaking North American Defence, or, a Revolution in NORAD Affairs? How, er, Proactive?” ]. The question then is whether the CANUS part of the equation is adequately structured and resourced to present a credible denial threat to an adversary. Arguably, an adversary could be dissuaded from directly threatening or attacking independent of a punishment threat conceived of as a last resort.

Importantly, any adversary, regardless of perceptions of denial credibility, cannot ignore or simply discount punishment given the reality of US strategic conventional and military capabilities. Of course, as a psychological theory designed to alter adversarial thinking and calculations, it is extremely difficult to know or predict how an adversary thinks and responds to a deterrence posture. Perhaps, then, what is more significant is how North American decision makers think about their own credibility. It is here that the North American conundrum resides.

The North American component of the US- led Western global deterrence posture should exist as the central deterrence hub such that an adversary does not perceive it as a vulnerability that could be exploited to deter US- led responses to regional challenges. Yet it is questionable whether US and Canadian decision makers even think in these terms about the homeland.

Both arguably remain fixated on the overseas components, with North America as an afterthought despite the rhetoric…The American view is that neither Russia nor China would dare strike North America due primarily to its overarching military superiority and last-resort strategic punishment capabilities. The Canadian view is really a nonview. Essentially, Canada does not really think in deterrence terms because it lacks the capabilities to deter credibly and because deterrence is an American responsibility, with Canada helping and warning where it can…

The basic answer is to alter deterrence thinking in North America. Structural changes, including necessary investments, to the North American deterrence [by denial] posture must be made to alter adversary perceptions so that North America cannot be held hostage [emphasis added]

These changes are obviously easier said than done. Despite the best efforts by senior NORAD and USNORTHCOM officials to communicate this message [see this March 2021 post: “US NORTHCOM Thinking pre-emptively vs Russian Cruise Missiles, Leaving NORAD a Backwater?“], it may take an unexpected overseas regional challenge resulting in a major crisis in which the lack of North American denial credibility comes to the fore. Unfortunately, by then, it may be too late. The need to refocus on denial is paramount.

Andrea Charron
Dr. Andrea Charron is an associate professor of international relations and director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the home of Canada’s NORAD headquarters.

James Fergusson
Dr. James Fergusson is a professor of international relations and deputy director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba. His latest book is Beyond Afghanistan: An International Security Agenda for Canada (2016)…

Thus a major thrust of the paper’s arguments is that, besides the clear need to modernize NORAD, along with NORTHCOM, to deal with threats to North America at the strategic level, those defences must also be capable of deterring, and if not handling effectively, more limited strikes against North America (conventional or even nuclear) in support of military operations elsewhere aimed at convincing the US to give up resisting those operations.

In that context note this bit from a 2015 post:

NORAD Note: Russian Bomber (with cruise missiles) Strikes in Syria

…Moscow’s bomber force remains a traditional component of its nuclear triad, but also forms a useful element in its quest for conventional deterrence, conferring the ability to reach out and touch the U.S. or NATO allies at great range…

Meanwhile the US in putting increasing pressure–including publicly by the dual-hatted USAF four-star general commanding NORAD and NORTHCOM–on PM Trudeau’s government to start committing to serious and funded actions on upgrading NORAD–a post:

NORAD Commander puts Hypersonic and North Warning System Cats amongst Trudeau Government’s Pigeons

One hopes some senior bureaucrats and, gasp, maybe a few ministers are at least briefed on the professors’ paper. Dream on, eh?

These tweets illustrate the current government’s continuing er, lackadaisical approach to NORAD (Mr Trudeau has been prime minister for over six years):

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

5 thoughts on “Here’s Looking at NORAD/NORTHCOM’s Way Ahead, or, Deterrence and Punishment”

  1. Keep up the good work Mark. Enjoy your commentary.

    On Mon, 27 Dec 2021, 03:30 Mark Collins 3Ds Blog, wrote:

    > mark3ds posted: ” Further to this May 2021 post, NORAD (and NORTHCOM) > Thinking Offense of some sort vs Russian Threats–what does Canadian > Government Think? a few excerpts below from a paper by two very > knowledgeable professors at the University of Manitoba, publishe” >


  2. One doubts PM Trudeau’s gov’t will do much, commit really significant funds, in absence of really big US pressure–perhaps including basis rights for US military in Canada (USAF for fighters, US Navy in Newfoundland):

    “Ukraine war sparks fresh calls for urgency on upgrading North America’s defences

    The federal Liberal government insists modernizing Norad is a top priority. To that end, Canada and the U.S. have issued several joint statements over the years affirming the need to upgrade the system. Ottawa also set aside an initial $163 million for the effort last year.

    Yet while the U.S. has been pressing ahead on a number of fronts, including the deployment of new missile interceptors and artificial intelligence to merge data from a variety of different sources to detect an attack, Canada has been largely silent.

    “Where do we stand?” said University of Manitoba professor James Fergusson, one of Canada’s leading experts on Norad. “No one seems to know. Or if they know, they’re not saying where we stand.”

    During a trip to Ottawa in December, VanHerck told reporters he was awaiting political direction on upgrading Canada’s key contribution to Norad, a string of radars built in the Canadian Arctic in the 1980s called the North Warning System.

    Military officials have been cautioning for years that the North Warning System, which was built to detect Russian bombers approaching North America from over the Arctic, is obsolete..

    Asked last week whether VanHerck has been given the needed political direction, Defence Minister Anita Anand said she has had several discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about Norad modernization and the North Warning System.

    But she did not provide any other specifics, and instead noted that the federal government awarded a $592-million contract in January to an Inuit-owned company, Nasittuq Corp., to operate and maintain the system’s long- and short-range radars [drop in the bucket, indigenous the point, not the defence effectiveness].

    …there has also been a sense that while Ottawa says Norad modernization is a priority, it’s not a top priority. This has been evidenced by a virtual lack of dedicated funding for the effort. Its costs were omitted from the Liberal government’s defence policy in 2017.

    Canada’s controversial decision not to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence system also continues to cloud talk about the degree to which Canada is willing to help intercept and destroy threats to North America, not just detect them as they approach the continent…

    The hope for some is that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will serve as the catalyst for Ottawa to make Norad modernization a true priority with more dedicated funding in this year’s federal budget and moving ahead on some potentially controversial decisions.

    “Here’s a perfect moment to announce that we’re coming on board with all forms of ballistic missile defence … and we are going to discuss the positioning of new radar systems and new missile interceptors on Canadian soil,” said Lawson [ret’d RCAF general, former deputy head of NORAD and chief of defence staff].

    “And, by the way, we are now announcing that we’re buying F-35s, the first of which will be delivered four years from now. Now, all of a sudden, you’re looking pretty beefy.”

    Mark Collins


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