Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk, left, holds a joint press conference with United States Admiral James Winnefeld at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa on Monday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Gen. Walt Natynczyk welcomed the new NORAD commander, U.S. Admiral James Winnefeld, who pledged the Americans' full military support during the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in Toronto.

NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defence Command, is a binational military organization established in 1958 by Canada and the U.S. to monitor and defend North American airspace.

NORAD monitors and tracks man-made objects in space and detects, validates and warns of attacks on North America by aircraft, missiles, satellites and space debris.

Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa Monday, Winnefeld told reporters he was interested in accomplishing two things during his tenure.

The first is to re-emphasize the importance of NORAD — which he called a "very, very important security relationship that is emblematic of the overall relationship between our countries."

"It's symbolic of the partnership between our two countries evidenced by our ongoing ... international security force, forces in Afghanistan and also places like Haiti and the like," he said.

The second thing Winnefeld said he wants to do "is really to listen and learn."

"As the commander of NORAD, I not only work for the United States, I work for Canada and it's very important for me to listen to the national security team in Canada, to discover what is important in Canadian minds so that it can influence what I do."

U.S. would send in military if asked

Similar to its role during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NORAD's focus during the G8 and G20 summits "involves surveillance and assessment of potential threats and the intentions of aircraft that might be entering the airspace around those particular events," Winnefeld said in response to a reporter's question.

Moreover, under the Canada-U.S. Civil Assistance Plan, the Americans would send in their military if the need arose, he added.

"If something [were to happen], heaven forbid, we would be receptive of course to a request from Canada for support," Winnefeld said, though he quickly added that he had complete confidence in Canada's ability to handle a wide range of events.

"I wouldn't want to indicate in any way, shape or form that we don't have that sort of confidence. But we're always proud to assist a neighbour, and we have the structure in place to do that."