NORAD, Russia Train to Confront Terrorist Hijackings

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2012 – It was a scene unthinkable even 30 years ago as U.S., Canadian and Russian militaries worked together this week at the North American Aerospace Command headquarters to confront a common enemy: terrorist hijackers.

Defense_gov News Article NORAD, Russia Train to Confront Terrorist Hijackings

That’s exactly what happened during Vigilant Eagle 12, the third exercise of its kind designed to promote collaboration in detecting hijacked aircraft and scrambling military jets to intercept and escort them to safety.

This year’s three-day exercise was computer-based, with participants at the NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; and at two bases in Russia.

The scenario involved commercial airliners on international flights that had been seized by terrorists, Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard W. Scobee, NORAD’s deputy operations director, told reporters as the exercise wrapped up yesterday. One simulated hijacking took off from Alaska and was headed for Russian airspace; the other originated in Russia and was bound for the United States.

The scenarios required NORAD – the U.S.-Canada command that safeguards U.S. skies under Operation Noble Eagle — and the Russian air force to go through the procedures they would use to dispatch fighter jets to investigate and track the aircraft heading toward each other’s airspace. At that point, they handed off the missions to the other to complete.

Applying lessons learned during last year’s exercise, which involved actual aircraft, the participants worked through escort and handoff procedures using their different communications, command-and-control and air traffic control systems, Scobee explained.

To complicate the scenarios, and to reflect what assets might be available during a real-life hijacking, they had to work without input from the U.S. Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System or Russia’s A-50 Beriev system.

NORAD and Russia share surprisingly similar tactics, techniques and procedures, Scobee said yesterday during a post exercise news conference. “It is remarkable that they are so similar,” he said. “Even though we developed them separately, we see the problem similarly.”

Subtle differences became transparent during the exercise, Scobee said, because of the “clean handoff” as one command handed the mission and authority over to the other. “It was like a handshake,” he said.

The unifying factor, Scobee said, was an understanding that actions taken could mean the difference between life and death for passengers. “That is the No. 1 thing – and the Russian Federation is just like NORAD [and] the United States and Canada,” Scobee said. “We want to protect our citizens, and that is our primary goal.”

Scobee and Maj. Gen. Sergey Dronov of the Russian air force, who led Russia’s delegation in Colorado, praised the professionalism of both the NORAD and Russian militaries and their shared appreciation of the importance of the mission.

“Right now, we have a common enemy, and that is terrorism,” Dronov said through an interpreter.

“Our countries are uniquely plagued by terrorism,” agreed Scobee. “And this exercise gives us an opportunity to work together, to learn from each other about how we are dealing with those kinds of events.”

The goal, he said, is to increase the complexity of the exercises, refining concepts and procedures in simulation, then applying them in the sky the following year.

“Next year, we will go back and use lessons learned from this exercise and apply them to another live-fly exercise,” he said. “It will be one of those things where we learn from each other and keep building on the exercises we have.”

Future exercises will continue to integrate new curve balls that keep participants on their toes while reflecting how adaptable adversaries operate, Scobee said.

“It is a constant chess game, because just like we don’t keep our tactics stagnant, terrorists do the same thing,” he said. “They are always thinking of another way to try to get past our systems of control. So we always have to think about adjusting our tactics, our training and our procedures.”

Dronov said he was impressed during this year’s exercise by how quickly the participants dealt with challenging scenarios thrown their way. “They are also walking away with some priceless experience of interaction with each other,” he said. “I am confident that in the future, this cooperation will continue.”

The Vigilant Eagle series stems from a 2003 agreement between the U.S. and Russian presidents to promote closer cooperation as they move beyond the Cold War era, Scobee explained. The threat of international hijackers served as a foundation to help advance that effort, resulting in a relevant exercise program that helps address a recognized threat.

“The populations of the United States and Canada and the Russian Federation should hear this loud and clear: We are here to ensure their safety,” Scobee said. “Not only do we practice here at NORAD multiple times a day for this to happen, but now we are also practicing with our international partners to ensure that the air systems of all our countries are safe. And then, if something does go wrong, that we are there to take action.”

This helps to provide a unified front against terrorist hijackers like those who attacked the United States on 9/11, giving birth to the Noble Eagle mission, he said.

“We will never be helpless again,” Scobee added. “[The public] should hear that loud and clear.”

 

Russians, Americans Take Part in Joint Air Force Counter-Terror Drill

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. may be troubled by Russian support for Syria’s Assad regime, freedom of expression violations and politically motivated prosecutions, but military-to-military cooperation continues, in line with the administration’s so-called “reset” of relations with the Kremlin.

For the third summer in a row, Russian Air Force personnel will join their American and Canadian counterparts in a joint counter-terror exercise beginning Monday, simulating a cooperative response to an aircraft hijacked by terrorists in international airspace.

Exercise “Vigilant Eagle” involves Russian, U.S. and Canadian personnel operating from command centers in the U.S. and Russia.

It is one of several exercises and exchanges agreed upon in a July 2009 agreement – an early product of the “reset” – signed by then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and his Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, restoring joint activities that were halted by the Bush administration in response to the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008.

A statement by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said the Aug. 27-29 exercise will simulate an international flight “originating in Alaska and traveling into Russian airspace followed by one originating in Russia and traveling into the U.S. airspace.”

“The basic premise is that a foreign-flagged commercial air carrier on an international flight has been seized by terrorists,” it said. “The aircraft will not respond to communications. The exercise scenario creates a situation that requires both the Russian Air Force and NORAD to launch or divert fighter aircraft to investigate and follow the aircraft. The exercise will focus on the cooperative hand-off of the aircraft between fighter aircraft of the participating nations.”

NORAD said the exercise was part of an initiative aimed at transforming the relationship between the U.S. and Russian militaries and improving cooperation in preventing possible threats of air terrorism.

According to a Russian military spokesman, the exercise will involve personnel at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. and Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Ala., and at two Russian bases in the country’s Far East.

Other initiatives to come out of the 2009 U.S.-Russia agreement included strategic discussions between U.S. Joint Staff and Russian General Staff, orientation for Russian military cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, other military academy faculty visits and a naval war game.

“As global powers, the United States and Russia have a special responsibility for ensuring peace and stability in the world,” the White House said in a statement at the time.

“Reestablishing our military-to-military bonds will enhance transparency, establish clear paths of communication, and focus our collective efforts on today’s global strategic challenges.”

In recent weeks U.S. officials have expressed strong concerns about Russian policies at home and abroad since Putin began this third presidential term in May, particularly its decision to join China in vetoing – for a third time – a U.N. Security Council resolution responding to the crisis in Syria.

State Department spokesman have also spoken out about “the democratic trend in Russia,” including prosecutions of opposition figures and “cases where freedom of expression has been squelched,” such as the jailing of members of the anti-Putin rock group, Pussy Riot.

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