This Wednesday, May 2nd, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) kicks off its annual Ardent Sentry exercise, one of the largest homeland defense events, combining military support for disasters and counter-terrorism.
Ardent Sentries no doubt, those post 9/11 war planners in Colorado Springs, but they are awfully shy ones. While the United States openly picks a fight with China through significant force structure changes in the Pacific and military exercises galore; while the U.S. tinkers with its Persian Gulf readiness and posture preparing for war with Iran, back home, Ardent Sentry 2012 (AS 12) is portrayed as a hurricane disaster preparedness drill so as to not antagonize the American public.
The first Ardent Sentry exercise was held in 2004, and like previous year’s exercises, this one is complex and multi-faceted, with both unclassified and Top Secret compartmented portions, including the increasingly secret and quiet activities with Mexican authorities.
The central activity of AS 12 is a large-scale command post exercise (CPX) focusing on NORTHCOM battlestaff preparedness and practice of war plans. But the Joint Staff sanctioned “Tier I” event also includes:
- Positive Response 12-1, a Joint Chiefs of Staff highly classified regular mobilization and planning exercise.
- Canada Command exercises Staunch Maple 2012 (SM 12) and Frontier Sentinel (FS 12). Canada Command is the new post 9/11 Canadian command equivalent to NORTHCOM.
- Vigilant Guard-Oregon (VG-OR), one of a series of four annual National Guard exercises that this year will be regional and tactically focused, practicing the ‘Dual Status Commander’ program, the unheralded erosion of State control over state militias.
- Nuclear Weapons Accident/Incident Exercise (NUWAIX) supported by Defense Threat Reduction Agency and focused on Air Force Global Strike Command accident response and emergency military contingencies at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
- Amalgam Mako, a maritime mining exercise run concurrently with the Canadian Frontier Sentinel in northeast waters off Nova Scotia and extending to Connecticut.
- Arctic Edge 12 (AE 12), a Joint Task Force Alaska exercise focused on military contingencies in Alaska and the Arctic, a region recently folded into NORTHCOM’s battlefield.
- A Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio force protection and counter-terrorism exercise, including scenarios “ranging from simulated terrorist attacks to a natural disaster with mass casualties.”
As part of Ardent Sentry, something called Task Force 51 (Fifth Army, U.S. Army North) will also exercise with Mexican security authorities, ostensibly practicing hurricane preparedness – on the border. In the Texas-based scenario, a hurricane first makes landfall near Brownsville, blows back out to the Gulf and then hits the upper Texas coast, wreaking major damage to infrastructure. Incident command posts will operate in Houston and San Antonio and in Alexandria, La, and include the Civil Air Patrol. With its new Advanced Digital Reconnaissance Systems (ADRS), CAP is now an intelligence collector for homeland defense; everyone into the act!
Meanwhile, ARNORTH liaison officers posted to Mexican IV Military Region and the 8th Military Zone will skulk about with their Mexican counterparts.
Though Ardent Sentry is coinciding with National Level Exercise 2012 (NLE 2012), the Department of Homeland Security sponsored preparedness exercise involving interagency, State, and local agencies, it is decidedly not a part of NLE 12. AS 12 is also not a sanctioned National Exercise Program (NEP) recognized event, and as such, NORTHCOM decides interagency participation.
In the official press release from NORTHCOM and NORAD announcing Ardent Sentry 2012, the combined commands merely say that the exercise will focus on “Defense Support of Civil Authorities, May 2 – 9, 2012.”
Field training events, it says, will take place in North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Nova Scotia and involve United States and Canadian military units. The Vigilant Guard exercise – not named in the press release – is described as “the Oregon National Guard will work with state and local officials to respond to numerous weather-related and security events.” The Amalgam Mako/Frontier Sentinel exercise – also unnamed – is described as merely involving “a security related event.”
Nowhere in the press release is there mention of Mexico, even though the NORTHCOM commander told Congress in March that Ardent Sentry 12 would be the first time the U.S. and Mexico participated in the joint exercise.
Terrorist attacks, “red” shipping approaching the east coast, border control, support to State and local police, domestic intelligence collection, destruction of critical infrastructure, activation of the mobile command center: NORTHCOM seems incapable of any kind of transparency. You could, of course, watch it all on ENN, the Exercise News Network, where the Joint Coalition Warfighting Center will produce simulated commercial press (video, audio, and print) response to the events, honing the ability to communicate with a simulated American public.