Canadian and US forces team up for NORAD exercise
The atmosphere in the quick reaction area is tense. Fighter pilots with the North American Aerospace Defence Command have been placed on high alert as they sit with their equipment nearby, waiting for the inevitable. All of a sudden the phone rings and the order is given to scramble the fighters. Situation: an unidentified aircraft is approaching the Air Defence Identification Zone over the Atlantic Ocean. Their mission: to intercept and identify the aircraft prior to entering sovereign airspace.
If this sounds like a real-life scenario, then the NORAD exercise coordinators have done their job.
On September 18 and 19, the Canadian and Continental US NORAD Regions participated in Exercise Amalgam Dart. The main objective was to provide a realistic scenario to put NORAD personnel and procedures to the test.
“Even if you know that you are getting scrambled for an exercise, your heart still jumps when you hear the horn go off,” said Capt. Corey “Alcan” Mask, a CF-18 pilot with 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron at 3 Wing Bagotville. “When you get scrambled you are always trying to beat the clock airborne. You quickly don your equipment and run out to the jet and normally the heart rate does not go down at least until wheels are up”.
In one of the exercise scenarios, CF-18 Hornets from 3 Wing Bagotville and F-15 Eagles from Otis Air Force Base launched to intercept an inbound “unidentified” aircraft over the Atlantic.
Although Capt. Mask has practiced intercepts in the past, this particular exercise brought something unique. A US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress from Barksdale AFB played the role of the mysterious aircraft.
“Until you see the aircraft, it is just like any other radar intercept. It is when you fly on its wing that you start to appreciate just how big the aircraft is,” said Capt. Mask, who has had the privilege of intercepting a CC-150 Polaris to offer a special welcome home to troops returning from Afghanistan.
This exercise also achieved another first for the pilot. It was the first time he exercised the transfer of an aircraft escort from Canadian to American fighters.
“[The transfer] was very smooth. We heard the F-15’s on the radio early on before we had reached US Airspace and they visually took over escorting the B-52 just as we reached the end of the Canadian Air Defence Identification Zone,” he added.
Other aircraft supporting this exercise included an E3 AWACS (airborne warning and control system) from Tinker AFB and a KC-10 air-to-air refuelling tanker from McGuire AFB.
The partnership between Canadian and US forces is par for the course in the bi-national Command. Since NORAD operations often include participation between its Canadian, Alaskan or Continental US regions, so too do the training exercises. For Capt. Mask, and surely all of the other participants, the objective of realistic training is not lost.
“The most important aspect of these types of exercises is that you get to practice your NORAD mission in a realistic environment,” added Capt. Mask. “Although you often practice intercepts in local training airspace, you don’t often get a chance to perform a six-hour mission with air-to-air refuelling over the North Atlantic, intercepting a unique aircraft while having to deal with weather, fuel diversions and long range radio communications”.
Amalgam Dart is one of a series of NORAD exercises that are held throughout the year designed to provide realistic training, to evaluate tactics and procedures and to ensure connectivity and interoperability.