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News | Aug. 30, 2012

NORAD, Russian Federation wrap up Vigilant Eagle 12

By Tech. Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Members of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Russian Air Force completed Exercise Vigilant Eagle 12 Aug. 29.

Vigilant Eagle 12, a joint computer-based command post exercise, is designed to build and strengthen cooperation between U.S., Canadian and Russian military forces during a terrorist hijacking where the aircraft moves between U.S. and Russian airspace.

This year’s exercise scenario focused on procedures for monitoring the situation and cooperative hand-off of the track of interest from one nation to the other while exchanging information.

“This exercise continues the 2003 initiative of the U.S., Canadian and Russian governments to jointly pursue the transformation of their relationship from Cold War confrontation to 21st Century cooperation in air security,” said NORAD spokesman Royal Canadian Navy Lt. Al Blondin. “By working side-by-side, this exercise provided further opportunities for Russia, Canada and the United States to enhance their international partnership to cooperatively detect, track, identify, intercept and follow an aircraft as it proceeds across international boundaries.”

Unlike Vigilant Eagle 11, Vigilant Eagle 12 did not include a live-fly element. Instead, the scenario was simulated with computers. Air Force Brig. Gen. Richard Scobee, NORAD deputy director of operations, said the command post exercise allows them to run through the complex scenarios that will be flown the following year without a risk to safety.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is increase the complexity of our exercises,” Scobee said. “We take safety very seriously, so our first exercise was a command post exercise but it was very simple in execution. The next year we flew that exercise and so it added a margin of safety to that scenario. This year our scenario was a little more complex, so as we’re stepping up that complexity, we want to do it first in a command post environment where we can learn the lessons that would impact safety. Then, when we actually fly the exercise, we know the communications systems are robust, we’ve exercised what the flight paths would be and we’ve done all the other planning that goes into an aviation endeavor.”

One of the new complexities included in Vigilant Eagle 12 was the removal of airborne warning and control aircraft from the scenario. In Vigilant Eagle 11, E-3 Sentry and Russian A-50 aircraft were used to communicate with and control the escorting fighters. In Vigilant Eagle 12 the simulated fighters had to speak directly to each other. This new facet of the exercise will be tested during the live-fly portion of Vigilant Eagle 13 next year.

“We removed the command and control aircraft because we may not always have those available,” Scobee explained. “The hand-off is between fighter aircraft and fighter aircraft. On one day you have the U.S. aircraft handing off the track of interest to the Russian fighters who intercept the aircraft, and on the next day you have it the other way around. So that is the added complexity, you don’t have that extra command and control element involved."

Scobee said the nations involved are careful to take the lessons learned in previous iterations of Vigilant Eagle and apply them as the exercise continues. One area that has shown tremendous improvement, he said, is in communications.

“The communications and the command and control pieces are where a lot of our lessons were learned,” he said. “This year it’s gone incredibly smooth because of those lessons learned. It’s as simple as having telephone communication between our control centers. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to get a phone line where we could talk securely with our Russian counterparts because they’re two completely different systems. So these are the things we’re working on, because we want to let them know when something bad is heading their way, and they want to let us know when something bad is heading our way. It’s all about collaboration.”

Lessons from Vigilant Eagle are learned over time as the U.S., Canadian and Russian militaries work to stay ahead of their potential adversaries.

“We take a measured approach,” Scobee said. “We started out with an easy scenario and we’ve moved up to something now that I would say is quite robust. We’re constantly thinking of new and inventive ways terrorist could attack us and how to counter that.”

Russian General-Major Sergey Vladimirovich Dronov, commander-in-chief of the 3rd Air Force Air Defense Command Eastern Military District, said the performance of the three militaries during Vigilant Eagle 12 made him confident about their ability to work jointly in the event of a terrorist attack.

“Right now we have a common enemy, and that’s terrorism,” Dronov said through an interpreter. “And working today through this exercise, I’m convinced of this once again, that we have complete understanding and complete interaction.”

Scobee put an exclamation point on that , adding, “The populations of the United States, Canada and the Russian Federation should hear this loud and clear: We are here to ensure their safety. Not only do we practice here at NORAD multiple times a day for this to happen, but now we’re practicing with our international partners to ensure the air systems of all of our countries are safe.”