NORAD personnel hone response skills in Amalgam Arrow exercises
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — About once every month, North American Aerospace Defense Command personnel hone their crisis response skills in a training exercise called Amalgam Arrow.
Amalgam Arrow exercises are relatively short – usually lasting just one or two hours – and are designed to test NORAD's ability to detect and defend against unknown aircraft flying in Canada and the United States.
For instance, if an aircraft deviates from its filed flight plan, its identification beacon stops broadcasting, or communications with the aircraft are lost, the FAA notifies NORAD. NORAD personnel then determine where the aircraft is, where it's headed, and whether or not fighters need to be launched.
Amalgam Arrow exercises incorporate more than just hijacking scenarios on commercial jets, said Air Force Col. Steve DePalmer, deputy director of NORAD operations. An unknown aircraft could also just be having trouble with its navigation or communications system.
"Are they simply undergoing an emergency where they can't talk to us, or they can't navigate?" DePalmer explained. "Or do they have some other type of nefarious intentions that we need to find out about and then take an appropriate action?"
The Amalgam Arrow exercises allow pilots and other personnel to practice quickly getting fighters to the aircraft in question and determining the intent of the people on board.
"If it's simply for an emergency, we're able to help that distressed aircraft," DePalmer said. "If it's not, then we're able to make some decisions as to what's next, with respect to preventing this aircraft from causing a loss of life and property."
Amalgam Arrow exercises can either be "live-fly" – with actual civilian planes and NORAD fighters in the air – or they can be simulated.
During the exercises, while NORAD is actively engaged in detecting potential airborne threats and determining what actions to take, USNORTHCOM is closely listening and watching every development.
"For instance," DePalmer said, "let's say this aircraft was in distress, was having an emergency and did not make it to its destination airfield. If that aircraft actually has an accident and crashes along the way, NORTHCOM may be there for what we call consequence management," depending on the severity of the incident.
NORAD personnel have a "somber zeal" for their mission of defending U.S. and Canadian airspace, DePalmer said.
"That's the mission we were given," he said. "We practice it, and we take it very seriously, and we want the citizens of both the United States and Canada to know that there is a system out there and forces out there that are ready if that type of scenario occurs today."