Exercise Vigilant Shield 23: Defending North America


In an era of increased threats from potential adversaries, the United States and Canada are demonstrating their ability to defend North America across all domains during exercise Vigilant Shield.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) conducted the annual homeland defense exercise April 11-19, 2023.

Vigilant Shield is a binational exercise designed to “assess and enhance the readiness of NORAD and USNORTHCOM, its components and mission partners” to defend the continent from attack, according to an April 10 news release. NORAD is a binational command between Canada and the U.S. It provides aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning for North America. USNORTHCOM conducts homeland defense, defense support to civil authorities, and security cooperation to defend and secure the U.S. homeland.  The two commands, which have complementary missions, are located together at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy calls the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the “pacing challenge” for the U.S., while Russia remains an “acute threat.”

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer takes off from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, during Exercise Vigilant Shield in April 2023. STAFF SGT. HANNAH MALONE/U.S. AIR FORCE 

Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, who heads USNORTHCOM and NORAD, has said that growing threats from both nations include advanced cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons, as well as non-kinetic capabilities.

“A strong homeland defense is the foundation of our nation’s ability to project power globally while deterring aggression and achieving our strategic objectives in competition, crisis and conflict,” VanHerck told the U.S. House Armed Services Committee on March 8.

Vigilant Shield strengthens that foundation.

Personnel from across the U.S. and Canada participated in the exercise, including the commands’ headquarters, the Alaskan, Canadian and Continental NORAD Regions, USNORTHCOM components (U.S. Army North, U.S. Air Force North, U.S. Navy North, U.S. Marine Forces North and Special Operations Command North), and other subordinate units and mission partners, the news release said.  (Pictured: The pilot of an F-15C from the Fresno Air National Guard prepares for takeoff during Exercise Vigilant Shield in April 2023.)

“Vigilant Shield 23 provides NORAD and USNORTHCOM opportunities to examine and refine strategies, evaluate processes and procedures, and demonstrate the ability to address threats in various environments and domains,” the news release said. “It is primarily a Command Post Exercise using simulated forces and involves the commander, the staff, and communications within and between headquarters.”

VanHerck, in his congressional testimony, lauded the history of North America’s defense cooperation.

“The U.S. and Canadian continental defense framework,” he said, “has an unrivaled legacy of success and serves as an international model of defense cooperation.”