A Missile Defense Commander in the Second Nuclear Age: An Interview With the THAAD Commander on Guam


2014-01-02 The emergence of the second nuclear age is one of the core challenges facing the US and allied forces in this decade of the 21st century.

Successfully navigating these challenges is not a given, and shaping an effective response is a work in progress.

During 2014, our Second Line of Defense Forum will focus initially on the challenge of the Second Nuclear Age and our guest editor will by Paul Bracken, the author of a book with the same name.

The core point is rather simply put: the rules that applied to the first nuclear age do not necessarily apply to the second. 

The new nuclear powers are acquiring nuclear weapons or on paths to obtain them as part of a re-shaping of global dynamics within the 21st century and to re-shape global power balances.

Rather than relegating nuclear weapons to the dust bin of history, the new nuclear powers are seeking to make them center pieces of their global aspirations and ability to position themselves within their regions and beyond.

In his presentation to the Air Force Association Pacific Forum, the PACAF Commander, General Hawk Carlisle, highlighted the contribution made by the US Army in moving a THAAD Battery to Guam in record time.

Instead of a 6 week deployment cycle, the battalion was moved and operational in two weeks time!

Task Force Talon commander Lt. Col. Clyde S. Cochrane III walks U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Vincent Brooks to his plane after his visit to the A4 THAAD at Andersen AFB, Guam, on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013. The A4 THAAD deployed to Guam in April as a part of the 94th AAMDC Task Force Talon Mission.

We had a chance to follow up on Carlisle’s introduction of the subject with an phone interview with Task Force Talon Commander, LTC Cochrane, the THADD Task Force commander who is currently based on Guam. Cochrane has been in the US Army for 26 years, six and half years as an enlisted air defense solider and the remainder of the time as an air defense officer.  He has spent the majority of his career in divisional units, doing short range air defense.

According to LTC Cochrane: The task force itself is comprised of about 205 soldiers.

There are several different elements to the task force.

The first, of course, is the THAAD battery. This is Alpha 4, THAAD battery out of Fort Bliss, Texas.

Additionally, I have a security element that is out of the 472nd MP Company, out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

I also have a couple of different communications elements from units based out of Hawaii and, I do have a captain here from 1-1 ADA in Okinawa.

So, we really are pulling the best from multiple different units to accomplish this mission because we are in a deployment status here on the island of Guam.

SLD: What is your mission?

Lt. Col. Cochrane: The mission here is to defend the island of Guam against the North Korean tactical ballistic missile threats. If the strategic deterrent should fail, our task is to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles. We are here to defend the entire island of Guam.

SLD: General Carlisle highlighted the rapidity of your deployment and considered this a key part of the deterrent structure.  Could you discuss the approach?

Lt. Col. Cochrane: This was the first ever deployment of THAAD. 

We had a planning timeline of about six weeks to get to any place in the world and to set up and be operational.

We looked at that planning cycle and said: “You know we can do better than that.”

With a real mission on the table, the intensity picked up. We cut the deployment time by 2/3s and pulled in the elements from different locations into an integrated and coordinated force with the Air Force and with Joint Region Marianas (JRM). We were successful because the Air Force, the Navy and the Army pulled together as a joint force.

We initially moved what we call a minimum engagement package by air to Anderson Air Force base.  It came in a very rapid timeline on a relatively small number of aircraft (C-17s and C-5s) and allowed us to establish our basic operation and to achieve our initial capability to defend the island.  The remainder of the equipment came by sea.

A clear theme in the discussion was how the workings of the joint force or what General Carlisle referred to as cross-domain synergy was a key element to shaping capabilities for the second nuclear age.

Lt. Col. Cochrane: Missile defense is more than just one platform or system.  It is a classic case of what you call no platform fights alone.  It is a system of systems.

We combine Aegis, with THAAD with short-range defense systems, etc.

For example, at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, the 94th AAMDC and the 613 AOC coordinate air and missile defense fot the Pacific Theater. The Navy and the Air Force all come together and conduct that coordination in terms of how we protect and coordinate our defense so that we are maximizing our capabilities.

It is not just a single system standing alone or operating independently.

It is the inter-dependence and the inter-operability of all these systems to all three of the branches that are actively engaged in missile and air defense.

In my unit, we are looking aggressively at how to cross link with Aegis, for example.

I have been extremely fortunate that Brigadier General Garland, who is the commander of the 36th Wing here has emphasized: “Welcome to Guam. What do you need?”

He has put his wing and their resources at our disposal to execute our mission so when we first came in, we were welcomed with open arms by our Air Force brethren and we are now part of their family.

We interact with the  wing commander and the wing vice-commander routinely, several times a week, talking about these missile defense issues.

Additionally, we are integrated into Wing exercises to practice coordinated actions before, during and after TBM engagements.

And we clearly do not want the Aegis and the THAAD firing against the same inbounds just because then we are wasting ammunition on two very capable missiles when they can be used elsewhere.

This is where the jointness of this whole process must come into play.

As we get to this “purple force” concept where all of us are working under a joint task force or a joint commander, it becomes extremely important that we actually do that cross coordination.

I believe that missile defense is only going to become more important as we continue to rebalance to the Pacific strategy that has been directed on us.

I think you are going to end up seeing more and more emphasis on the continued growth of our cooperative joint-ness between the Navy (Aegis ships), the Air Force (Defensive Counter Air) and the Army (Air and Missile Defense).

SLD: In fact, your entire effort is part of what we have referred to as the Second Nuclear Age.

Lt. Col. Cochrane: It is clear that our operational capabilities are important in and of themselves and as part of strategic messaging to North Korea and to our allies and friends.

We tell them, “We are capable. You threaten this island specifically, we are going to defend this island,” and by doing so we are not only sending a strategic message only to North Korea but also to other friends and allies in the area and any potential adversaries.