TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.: Participants from several federal, state and local agencies from across the United States and Canada participated in Vigilant Shield ’11, an exercise geared at training and evaluating tactics, techniques and procedures to ensure interoperability of Department of Defense assets in support of the president’s national preparedness strategy.

The exercise, known to its participants as VS11, is sponsored annually by officials from the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. It emphasizes an integrated DOD exercise program to support the national strategy of aerospace warning and control, defense support of civil authorities and homeland defense.

Among the major contributors to the overall success of VS11 were the representatives of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region and Air Forces Northern, based here. The role of CONR’s personnel was to provide airspace surveillance and control, while directing air sovereignty activities in the lower 48 states. Air Forces Northern, Members of USNORTHCOM’s air component, conducted homeland defense and DSCA operations in USNORTHCOM’s area of responsibility.

Unique to this year’s exercise for AFNORTH was the introduction of a Naval Liaison Element, or NALE, during the week-long scenario. Assigned to the 601st Air and Space Operations Center, the NALE team provided the necessary interface between the Navy and the Air Force, coordinating maritime requirements for air defense and airspace capabilities.

“This was the first time we’ve been able to have a team of naval experts in the AOC to help us integrate maritime force requirements into this national-level exercise,” said Col. Randy Spear, 601st AOC commander. “They played a critical role in helping us execute the designed scenarios and achieve our training objectives.”

The three-man Navy team operated side-by-side with their Air Force counterparts on the AOC operations floor and in the planning cells, working around the clock to provide real-time feedback and expertise that normally is not readily available to the AOC.

“VS11 was a great opportunity to integrate Navy forces into the NORAD and USNORTHCOM mission of aerospace defense,” said Navy Capt. Mike Crane, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot and the NALE team lead. “We were able to incorporate multi-mission Aegis ships into the battle plan, while validating command control and integration of multiple weapons systems and platforms at the operational level.”

In addition to the team lead, the NALE’s two other Navy officers were Cmdr. John Picco, an F/A-18 pilot, and Lt. Cmdr. Joel Lang, a surface warfare officer, both based out of Norfolk, Va.

“I can’t thank U.S. Fleet Forces Command enough for providing us with these three highly-skilled officers,” said Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, the AFNORTH commander. “Their feedback from a maritime perspective was absolutely invaluable and laid the foundation for future joint air operations that integrate other military force requirements. I am confident when I say that we succeeded in VS11 because of their superb contributions.”

In addition to homeland defense and DSCA events, AFNORTH participants also honed their skills and tested their ability to react to potential cyber attacks.

“Critical infrastructures like the AOC are highly dependent on our information technology systems and computer networks to conduct essential air defense operations,” said Joe Cotner, from the 101st Information Operations Flight, a detachment to the 601st AOC based in Salt Lake City, Utah. “We recognized the importance of involving cyber security in the exercise scenario, and the establishment of the Network Operations Working Group provided the expertise to develop a plan to defeat or minimize the effects of any large and small-scale cyber incident.”

The NORAD and USNORTHCOM commander illustrated the importance of training in a challenging environment.

“This isn’t the kind of exercise that allows you to concentrate on one area and knock it out of the park,” said Adm. James A. Winnefeld. “We’re not just testing our ability to respond to a threat in one focus area, but multiple threats across the entire spectrum. One day (we) will face many of these challenges for real, and if that happens, I know we’re going to be ready.”