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News | Aug. 29, 2013

Vigilant Eagle 2013 called “unprecedented” success

By Michael Kucharek NORAD and U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Russian Federation Air Force concluded their third cooperative live-fly air defense exercise August 28, 2013, culminating one year’s worth of preparation and planning for what representatives from both organizations called a successful response to a hijacking scenario.

In the exercise scenario, a foreign flagged commercial air carrier on an international flight was seized by terrorists and did not respond to communications. Both RFAF and NORAD launched or diverted fighter aircraft to investigate and follow the commercial carrier. The exercise also focused on a visual hand-off of the aircraft within the same airspace by the participating nations.

Major General André Viens, NORAD Director of Operations, said during a joint press conference at the NORAD and U.S. Northern Command headquarters here Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, that the exercise was “successful in achieving all established exercise objectives.” He also dubbed the positive hand-off as “unprecedented, and the result of a great deal of planning and coordination.  We have never done this in the past and we are extremely proud that it went off without a hitch.”

Viens also alluded to the complexity of such a multi-country exercise and what was achieved during VE13.

“Through the Vigilant Eagle exercise series we have developed and refined tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively notify, coordinate and conduct positive handoff of a terrorist hijacked aircraft flying between Russian, Canadian and American airspace,” said Viens.

Speaking through an interpreter, Viens’ counterpart from the Russian Federation Air Force, Russian General Major Dmitry Viktorovich Gomenkov, Commander, Aerospace Defense Brigade, indicated that two main objectives were achieved during VE13.

“Even though the headquarters are located thousands of kilometers away (from each other),” said Gomenkov.  “All tasks were performed successfully.”  He cited command and control and the actions of the pilots from multiple countries as key areas that led to the successful execution of the live-fly phase.

Both men expressed with confidence that the Vigilant Eagle series of exercises will continue, saying the experiences from previous command post and live-fly exercises will help build on future cooperative efforts between the three countries.

“I agree all activities performed against terrorists are very important,” said Gomenkov, again speaking through an interpreter. “I hope future planning conferences for Vigilant Eagle 14 make the exercise more interesting and complicated.”    

Vigilant Eagle 2013 began as a jointly pursued initiative between the United States and Russia to improve cooperation and response to a hijacking scenario involving commercial aircraft.  This year’s scenario involved personnel and aircraft from Russian, Canadian and U.S. operating in Russia and the United States.

NORAD is a United States and Canada bi-national organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and control for North America. Aerospace warning includes the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, through mutual support arrangements with other commands.

Aerospace control includes ensuring air sovereignty and air defense of the airspace of Canada and the United States. The renewal of the NORAD Agreement in May 2006 added a maritime warning mission, which entails a shared awareness and understanding of the activities conducted in U.S. and Canadian maritime approaches, maritime areas and internal waterways.