Symmetrical vs Asymmetrical Threats: Balancing NORAD's full-spectrum air defense

  • Published
  • By Col Michael Norton
  • EADS Commander
The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were clearly a turning point in the history of the NORAD/CONR/Sector air defense mission. Prior to that day, NORAD's primary focus was on the greatly diminished external Russian threat. Post-9-11, the main effort shifted to combating a well-organized "asymmetrical" terrorist threat.
During his recent testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, NORAD/NORTHCOM Commander Adm. Bill Gortney emphasized the re-emergence of Russia as a threat to the United States: "Russian heavy bombers flew more out of out-of-area patrols in 2014 than in any year since the Cold War." The Admiral also noted that there has been improved interoperability between Russian long-range aviation and the air and maritime intelligence platforms positioned to monitor NORAD. In short, the Russians are spending far more time probing, watching and studying us than they have in years past.

Were that not enough, the Russian armed forces are developing new types of old, "symmetrical" threats, such as long-range, conventionally-armed cruise missiles that can be launched from heavy bombers, ships and submarines. Furthermore, the Russian defense industry is developing typically symmetrical systems in a way that is well-suited to be employed by asymmetrical, non-state actors.  A widely viewed internet video showcases a Russian-made Club K missile system operated out of "conex" containers similar to those carried on ships and trains. Such a threat would be difficult to detect and to assign responsibility. The threats we face don't fall into the symmetric/asymmetric categories. NORAD's capabilities must evolve to match the threat. Read about AESA at  and more about JLENS at

In related news...
Admiral Gortney's March 12 comments were made a year after Russia invaded and annexed the Crimea, which had been part of the Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. On 10 March, Pentagon officials testified to Congress that Russia is still arming separatist forces elsewhere in Ukraine, violating the cease-fire agreed to at Minsk. The United States has responded to these aggressive actions with a series of EUCOM deployments and exercises to reassure our European allies of America's "dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region." One of our key air defense fighter units, the 125 Fighter Wing, Florida ANG, recently deployed to EUCOM in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Congratulations to Master Sgt. Jason Rutherford...
Master Sgt. Rutherford received the American Red Cross of the Mohawk Valley's Military Award for his counseling work during the organization's Real Heroes Breakfast on March 19 at Utica College. Be sure to congratulate Sgt. Rutherford on a job well done when you see him around the installation.