Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere is the commander, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, North American Aerospace Defense Command; commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Northern Command; commander, Eleventh Air Force, Pacific Air Forces, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

He is the senior military officer in Alaska, responsible for the integration of all military activities in the Alaskan joint operations area, synchronizing the activities of more than 22,000 active duty and reserve forces from all services.

During an interview with Airman magazine, Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere discussed the roles of partnerships, technology and innovation in increasing Air Force readiness in the Arctic. Video // Pete Ising

As commander of NORAD’s Alaskan Region, Bussiere directs operations to ensure effective surveillance, monitoring and defense of the region’s airspace. He is also responsible for the planning and execution of all homeland defense operations within the area of responsibility, including security and civil support actions. The general also commands 11th Air Force, overseeing the training and readiness of five wings and Air Force installations located in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam.

NORAD is a binational United States and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. Aerospace warning includes the monitoring of manmade objects in space, and the detection, validation and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles, utilizing mutual support arrangements with other commands. Aerospace control includes ensuring air sovereignty and air defense of the airspace of Canada and the United States.

To accomplish these critically important missions, NORAD continually adjusts its structure to meet the demands of a changing world. The commander is appointed by, and is responsible to, both the president of the United States and the prime minister of Canada.

Alaskan NORAD Region is responsible for completing the NORAD mission within the state of Alaska and the surrounding waters.

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere speaks during a change of command ceremony for the Alaskan NORAD Region, Alaskan Command and Eleventh Air Force at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska 24 Aug., 2018. Bussiere is a 1985 distinguished graduate of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and has held a variety of flying, staff and command assignments. Bussiere was the Commander, Eighth Air Force, and Commander, Joint-Global Strike Operations Center, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana prior to taking his current command.

U.S. Air Force Photo // Jamal Wilson

During an interview with Airman magazine, Bussiere discussed the roles of partnerships, technology and innovation in increasing Air Force readiness in the Arctic.

Airman magazine: What are the problems we face as an Air Force in the Arctic concerning readiness and the environment?

Gen. Bussiere: I wouldn’t characterize the situation in the Arctic as necessarily a problem, as much as opportunities and challenges. The Arctic presents opportunities because of the decreasing sea ice and there’s increased activity in the Arctic because of that. The challenges are the fact potential near peer adversaries of Russia and China are taking advantage of that decreasing sea ice and presenting challenges in national security, environmental as well as economic concerns in the Arctic.

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The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Louis S. St-Laurent ties up to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 5, 2009. The two ships are taking part in a multi-year, multi-agency Arctic survey that will help define the Arctic continental shelf.

USCG Photo

Airman magazine: Can you tell me about partnerships and the growing threat in the Arctic?

Gen. Bussiere: Partnerships in the Arctic are important based on the fact that the United States of America is an Arctic nation. That’s not necessarily a well-known fact, but as a member of the Arctic council, the United States has a leadership role in making sure that the concerns and issues in the Arctic are accounted for, both with the international law and with treaties. Our partnership with the other Arctic nations is important going forward to address both challenges and opportunities.

Airman magazine: How do you see our partnerships evolving to meet these new demands?

Gen. Bussiere: So, the increased activity in the Arctic is providing an opportunity for the United States with our partners in Canada and in Europe to posture for the future. That is a partnership that goes back many decades and it’s one that is continuing to be developed through the Arctic council and with the leadership of U.S. Northern Command. We are making great strides with building relationships with our fellow nations and with our fellow services as well as partnerships with both industry and the Alaska native community here.

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A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet makes initial contact with a CC-150 Polaris refueling tanker nozzle as RCAF Airmen assigned to the 437th Transport Squadron based out of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Canada, perform refueling operations in training airspace over Alaska during the Red Flag-Alaska 19-3 exercise, Aug. 15, 2019. Red Flag-Alaska, a series of Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. forces, provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment.

U.S. Air Force photo // Justin Connaher

Airman magazine: With so much strategy revolving around the Arctic, where should our focus be?

Gen. Bussiere: The Arctic in Alaska presents the United States a very strategic location. It’s always been a very strategic location; it just depends on what the focus of our nation has been on a global scale. I think there’s a reemergence of the significance of Alaska. You can reach just about anywhere on the planet from Alaska in short order, in less than nine hours. Alaska provides an opportunity to defend North American air space from the approaches through and in the Arctic.

The (environmental) challenges are many and the development of training opportunities in the Arctic with all our services is something that we’re working on for the future.

Airman magazine: What would it mean if we lost control of the Arctic?

Gen. Bussiere: Well, I think that there’s great realization with the increased human activity in the Arctic, that there’s an importance that our services, all of our services, Army, Air Force, Navy or Marines, (have) the ability to operate in the austere Arctic environment. Alaska provides an opportunity to train in that environment and I’m a firm believer that the way to preserve peace is to have a strong military and present deterrence in the Arctic. There’s no better place in my mind to train to that environment than Alaska.

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Army Pfc. Yasset Figueroa, left, a native of Ocean Township, N.J., assigned the 1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, part of U.S. Army Alaska, awaits orders at a rally point after conducting an Arctic airborne operation in the complete over-white uniform on Malemute drop zone at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Dec. 12, 2013.

U.S. Air Force photo // Justin Connaher

Airman magazine: How is the Air Force being utilized in this extreme cold environment to support our joint partners and as an operational force?

Gen. Bussiere: I think the Arctic presents an opportunity to posture. It’s always been important, but it presents an opportunity to posture the forces to make a very clear statement, whether it’s to Russia or China, that the United States has the ability to defend land, maritime and in the air over and around the joint operating area of Alaska.

Airman magazine: What are some of the challenges of this environment and how is the Air Force being utilized?

Gen. Bussiere: All services are represented in the joint operations area of Alaska, but the majority of the forces are Air Force. We have fighters, tankers and surveillance aircraft. We maintain the infrastructure in Alaska and we maintain our long-range radar systems. The Air Force has a long and storied history in Alaska.

So, the challenge is just the environment itself. Making sure that our forces are trained and ready to operate in the Arctic environment. The Alaska Joint Pacific training ranges, or JPARC, as we call it, is a phenomenal opportunity for both air and ground forces to train in the Arctic environment. The Gulf of Alaska also provides a phenomenal training opportunity for our Navy brothers and sisters.

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A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II attached to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 receives fuel from a KC-130J Hercules during exercise Northern Edge 19, May 13, 2019 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Northern Edge provides effective, capabilities-centered joint forces, ready for deployment world-wide and enables real-world proficiency in detection, identification and tracking of units at sea, in the air and on land and respond to multiple crises in the Indo-Pacific region.

U.S. Air Force photo // Master Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb

The Air Force has always had a great presence in Alaska. Now we have Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, Eielson Air Force Base as well as the training ranges. Ever since the end of World War II and the advent of (North American Aerospace Defense Command), or NORAD, the Air Force has been a permanent presence in the state of Alaska defending the sovereign airspace.

Airman magazine: How are communications in the Arctic? What have we done to improve these capabilities?

Gen. Bussiere: Communications in the Arctic present unique challenges just based on the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not necessarily unique to the Arctic as much as it is the High North presents some unique challenges based on ground and space based communications. It’s a known issue and it’s something that department’s working very aggressively to address. Just the vastness of Alaskan joint operations area presents some unique challenges for communication, but it’s one that we’ve worked very diligently on over the years and I’m confident if we need to operate in the Arctic, we’ll have the ability to command and control and communicate with air forces.

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The 23rd Space Operations Squadron, Det. 1 is located more than 700 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The detachment is the northernmost Air Force Satellite Control Network site and is responsible for collecting data and pushing commands to AF satellites. U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely

U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely

Airman magazine: Are we working with outside partners?

Gen. Bussiere: In the Arctic we work with a lot of outside partners and we work with all our service partners and our other federal partners, whether it’s NOAA or the FAA. We have great partnerships with the state and local leadership and we have a deep relationship with the Alaska native community who have been in this region for thousands of years and understand the unique dynamics and challenges of the Arctic environment.

The Alaska Federation of Natives community and the Alaska tribal community are very deep in history and traditions. We find there is great parallels between what we value in the DoD and in the Air Force and in what they value in their communities. We’ve been able to partner with the Alaska native leadership and there are great synergies between what we do and what they can teach us about the Arctic.

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Ed Thomas, Sealaska Board of Directors member, presents a Tlingit name to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander, Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, North American Aerospace Defense Command; commander, Alaskan Command, U.S. Northern Command; and commander, 11th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces, during an Alaska Native naming ceremony on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 28, 2019. The AFN hosted the event honoring Bussiere for his service and his active engagement with the Alaska Native community during his tenure in Alaska. The naming ceremony is based on the traditional belief that a person’s name is the type of soul they possess. The ceremony showcased the bond between the Alaska Native community and the military in Alaska.

(U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class Emily Farnsworth

Airman magazine: How is melting permafrost affecting our infrastructure? How are we rising to this challenge? How are we ensuring it’s never a problem again?

Gen. Bussiere: The changing environment both in the Arctic and in Alaska based on climate change is providing the unique challenges, whether that’s coastal erosion or decreased permafrost. There will be challenges for the infrastructure that will have to be addressed, whether that’s along the coastline or with our installations, but I’m confident that the engineering professionals in the Air Force and the DoD would be able to address that.

There are unique challenges based on the increased temperatures in the Arctic and permafrost is one of them. It’s not unique to Alaska; it’s actually a high North issue that’s being addressed across the Arctic Circle. As the ground increases in temperature, the permanent structures we have built in the Arctic will need adjustments – engineering adjustments – based on the decreased permafrost. It’s not happening at a rate that is alarming in our ability to respond. Like I said, I think we have all the expertise we need in the engineering community to address this. It’s certainly something we’ll have to plan for and act on going forward.

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A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II sits on the flight line during pre-Initial Operational Testing and Evaluation on Jan. 23, 2018, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. All three variants of the F-35 were brought to Eielson to test their ability to operate in an extreme cold-weather environment.

U.S. Air Force photo // Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson

Airman magazine: How does melting permafrost affect bedding down the F-35?

Gen. Bussiere: Alaska has a very unique construction season based on both the weather and the ground. The engineers and the professionals that build our facilities have really refined it to a unique science to manipulate the permafrost to build facilities to operate in this very cold environment.

Airman magazine: Observation plays a major role in our defense posture. Is there more demand for (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) now?

Gen. Bussiere: I think there’s always been a high demand signal for ISR in the Arctic. It’s a hot commodity or a high demand, low-density asset in the department. I would offer we compete just as well as any other region to make sure that we have the appropriate ISR platforms to do our business.

All the ISR is facilitated through USNORTHCOM and then we execute it through our Alaskan Command. The ability to for us to use all domains for ISR is just as important in the Arctic as it is in any other place on the on the planet.

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A 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk transports cargo in support of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. ICEX 2018 is a five-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations.

U.S. Air National Guard photo // Airman 1st Class Kelly Willett

Airman magazine: Are we working in a constrained budget? How and why?

Gen. Bussiere: USNORTHCOM for responsible for the Arctic and is designated as the lead for Arctic advocacy. Like every other combatant commander, USNORTHCOM relies on the services to organize, train, or equip their forces and in this case to be able to operate in and through the Arctic. I’ve seen a great advocacy both from the Department of Defense and the service level on developing Arctic strategies. So every service understands the importance of this region and just developing their own roadmaps to organize, training or equip their forces to be able to operate in it. What we do to help facilitate that is we execute Northern Edge and Arctic Edge, which are two major exercises, one every year. That gives our forces the opportunity to train in the environment that they potentially could have to operate in.

Airman magazine: Have we had to change anything or pull from other assets to support this?

Gen. Bussiere: No, I wouldn’t say we’re pulling forces from other regions, but the Air Force is stationing and fielding a fifth-generation weapon systems in the Alaskan joint operations area. We have two operational squadrons of the F-22 Raptor here at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and starting next April we’ll begin fielding two operational F-35 Lightning (II) fighter squadrons at Eielson Air Force Base.

It’s a very strong message to the world that the Alaskan joint operations area is a very important strategic location. Alaska with the vast ranges also provides a phenomenal opportunity for fifth-generation platforms to train.

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A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, flies in formation over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, July 18, 2019. The JPARC is a 67,000 plus square mile area, providing a realistic training environment commanders leverage for full spectrum engagements, ranging from individual skills to complex, large-scale joint engagements.

U.S. Air Force photo // Staff Sgt. James Richardson

Airman magazine: Where will the Air Force be most utilized in these developing situations?

Gen. Bussiere: The Air Force is postured to lead the way with trained and ready forces to operate in the Arctic. The U.S. Army Alaska forces are also very well postured. We’re continuing to invite all our fellow brothers and sisters in the Marine Corps and the Navy to continue their efforts to train in the Arctic.

It’s important that we work with our fellow allies and partners to be able to respond to anything in the Arctic and prevent anything bad from happening that is what we’re focused on.

The joint team in Alaska is extremely capable and professional and I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll be able to meet any challenge head on.

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An Air-Deployable Expendable Ice Buoy (AXIB) is deployed in the high Arctic near the North Pole from a Royal Danish Air Force C-130 aircraft operating out of Thule Air Force Base in Greenland, as part of the International Arctic Buoy Program (IABP). The deployment team, led by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), included personnel from the National Ice Center (NIC), Office of the Oceanographer of the Navy, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the University of Washington. The IABP is a conglomeration of global participants that maintain a network of drifting buoys in the Arctic Ocean that provide meteorological and oceanographic data for real-time operational requirements and research purposes.

U.S. Navy photo // John F. Williams

Airman magazine: What’s the state of the Air Force in the Arctic?

Gen. Bussiere: There are three different commands here. There’s Alaskan Command, NORAD Alaska and then the 11th Air Force. So, 11th Air Force is responsible for organized training, equipping all the air forces in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam. Our unique challenge is the fact that all the air forces in the 11th Air Force serve the Pacific Air Forces Command and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. And yet our challenges in the region are specific to USNORTHCOM and NORAD. So, each day from an 11th Air Force perspective we are trained to provide ready forces to USINDOPACOM or any other combatant command. And yet every day we’re also on alert providing air sovereignty defense for North American air space with Canada, and be prepared to defend North American homeland through Alaska Command, so that dynamic happens every day.

Airman magazine: Speaking directly to the Airmen of these commands, what would you like to say to them?

Gen. Bussiere: My most rewarding moments happen each day in watching the Airman, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines do phenomenal things. That’s the most rewarding thing. I was asked a couple months ago if we had a problem with recruiting innovative Airmen and I go, absolutely not. We don’t have a talent shortfall. We have the ability to let Airman do phenomenal things and we just need to watch and be in awe.

To the Airmen directly, continue to do phenomenal things for your Air Force and be proud of that. The 11th Air Force is a pretty large geographic command, going from Alaska to Hawaii and then all the way over to Guam, from a tropical environment to an Arctic environment and you make it look easy.

When you have an opportunity take a few moments to reflect upon how important what you do for our nation’s defenses is and then don’t forget to thank your families for enabling and empowering your service to our nation.

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Rumke, 66th Training Squadron, Detachment 1, Arctic Survival School instructor, tests an F-35A Lightning II survival gear kit in Fairbanks, Alaska, Nov. 5, 2019. Rumke sat in minus 65 degree temperatures for six hours to test the new gear that could be used to protect F-35 pilots from subzero temperatures in the event of an ejection.

U.S. Air Force photo // Senior Airman Beaux Hebert