USA/Russland — ‘Vigilant Eagle’ Tests NORAD, Russian Response

ANCHORAGE, Alas­ka, Aug. 10, 2010 — An auto­mat­ed female voice com­mands over onboard speak­ers, “Traf­fic! Traf­fic! Descend! Descend!” as a North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand F‑22 fight­er approach­es the right wing of the track of inter­est.

North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Russian air force
Cana­di­an Forces Col. Todd Balfe, Alas­ka NORAD Region deputy com­man­der, and Russ­ian air force Col. Alexan­der Vasi­lyev dis­cuss the han­dover of an air­borne warn­ing and con­trol plat­form over the north Pacif­ic Ocean, Aug. 8, 2010, dur­ing Vig­i­lant Eagle, a coop­er­a­tive exer­cise involv­ing the North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand and the Russ­ian air force.
U.S. Army pho­to by Maj. Mike Humphreys
Click to enlarge

Five min­utes after take-off from Anchor­age en route to the Far East, Fenc­ing 1220 — a Gulf­stream 4 sim­u­lat­ing a Boe­ing 757 com­mer­cial jet­lin­er — squawked an emer­gency to ground con­trollers, spurring action from the Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion and the Defense Depart­ment and kick­ing off exer­cise Vig­i­lant Eagle, the first joint counter air-ter­ror­ism exer­cise between NORAD and the Russ­ian air force. 

“What we are prac­tic­ing today is com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­ce­dures between NORAD, plus U.S. civil­ian air traf­fic con­trol agen­cies and our Russ­ian coun­ter­parts so that we can pass on infor­ma­tion to them about air ter­ror­ism events to allow them to pos­ture their forces to respond in kind,” said Cana­di­an Forces Col. Todd Balfe, Alas­ka NORAD Region deputy commander. 

Once the FAA was noti­fied of the trou­ble on Fenc­ing 1220, they request­ed assis­tance from NORAD, which assigned an E‑3 Sen­try air­borne warn­ing and con­trol plat­form to the track of inter­est and divert­ed two F‑22 fight­ers to inter­cept, Balfe said. Because of the aircraft’s planned route, which would take it over Russ­ian air­space, it was nec­es­sary to noti­fy Russ­ian air traf­fic con­trollers and the Russ­ian military. 

At a pre­de­ter­mined loca­tion halfway across the Pacif­ic Ocean, the NORAD E‑3, in direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion with its Russ­ian equiv­a­lent, an A‑50 Main­stay, hand­ed over con­trol. Moments lat­er, a deep Russ­ian bari­tone bel­lowed, “Fenc­ing One-Two-Two-Zero,” over the aircraft’s radio, and two SU-27 Russ­ian fight­ers joined the pur­suit close enough to see the sun reflect­ing off the pilot’s visor. 

The feel­ing on board Fenc­ing 1220 was one of col­lec­tive awe as for­mer Cold War oppo­nents wit­nessed the fruit of years of plan­ning and joint effort, but the sce­nario has all too real implications. 

“This exer­cise is very ben­e­fi­cial to North Amer­i­ca and to Rus­sia,” said Col. Alexan­der Vasi­lyev, deputy direc­tor of secu­ri­ty and safe­ty for the Russ­ian air force. “There has nev­er been an exer­cise like this before. 

“Ter­ror­ism is some­thing that affects all our coun­tries,” he con­tin­ued, “so it is very impor­tant that we work togeth­er to devel­op pro­ce­dures and bring the rela­tion­ship between our coun­tries clos­er togeth­er to unite our coun­tries in the fight against terrorism.” 

Back in Alas­ka, mem­bers of the 176th Air Con­trol Squadron worked with Russ­ian offi­cers as exer­cise con­trollers, mak­ing sure all the appro­pri­ate process­es and pro­ce­dures were car­ried out. 

Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Doug Patchin, 176th ACS, said he believes Vig­i­lant Eagle is a ground-break­ing event that could be emu­lat­ed by oth­er com­mands. “This exer­cise is phe­nom­e­nal,” he said. “The hope is that every­one walks away from the exer­cise with a com­mon under­stand­ing of what com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­ce­dures would be used in a real-world crisis.” 

Balfe described Vig­i­lant Eagle as a momen­tous exer­cise and a water­shed event. 

“We are try­ing to tran­si­tion our rela­tion­ships mil­i­tar­i­ly from a peri­od of con­fronta­tion in the Cold War to a peri­od of coop­er­a­tion, and there is no bet­ter mis­sion for NORAD to part­ner with our Russ­ian coun­ter­parts than on the air ter­ror­ism mis­sion,” he said. “Regard­less of oth­er geopo­lit­i­cal events, we all agree that air ter­ror­ism is some­thing we want to pre­vent, deter and, if nec­es­sary, defeat.” 

After six hours of track­ing by ground con­trollers in the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia and aer­i­al sur­veil­lance by U.S. and Russ­ian air­borne warn­ing and con­trol plat­forms and fight­er air­craft, Fenc­ing 1220 safe­ly land­ed in the Far East to be hand­ed over to authorities. 

After an overnight rest, the exer­cise was con­duct­ed in reverse, allow­ing Russ­ian forces to turn over respon­si­bil­i­ty to NORAD and bring Vig­i­lant Eagle 2010 to a suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion, Balfe said. 

“We’ve worked hard on both sides to make this work, and I think it would be log­i­cal for this exer­cise to be a build­ing block for future coop­er­a­tion between our nations,” Balfe said. “We are build­ing this rela­tion­ship stronger, which has a real ben­e­fit to U.S. and Cana­di­an cit­i­zens and obvi­ous­ly Russ­ian cit­i­zens too.” 

North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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