NORAD, Russia Hope to Build on Vigilant Eagle 13 Successes
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2013 Just concluding the most ambitious Vigilant Eagle exercise yet, senior military officials from the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Russian Federation told reporters today they’re ready to take the lessons learned to make next year’s exercise even more challenging.
A Russian air force Su-27 Sukhois intercepts a simulated hijacked aircraft entering Russian airspace Aug. 27, 2013, at Exercise Vigilant Eagle 13. This exercise is the fifth in a series of cooperative exercises that provide an opportunity for Russia, Canada, and United States military personnel to enhance their international partnership and to cooperatively detect, track, identify, and follow a hijacked aircraft as it proceeds across international boundaries. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Canadian Maj. Gen. Andre Viens, NORAD’s operations director, and Russian Gen. Maj. Dmitry Gomenkov, commander of the Eastern Military District of Russia’s Air and Space Defense Brigade, declared the Vigilant Eagle 13 exercise a major success.
The exercise kicked off Aug. 26, with scenarios that required the United States, Canada and Russia to respond to simulated terrorist hijackings of commercial aircraft. Both NORAD, a binational command that includes the United States and Canada, and Russia had to scramble fighter jets and track and intercept the “hijacked aircraft.”
Throughout the exercise series, the participants have developed tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively notify, coordinate, and conduct positive handoff of a hijacked aircraft flying through Russian, Canadian and American airspace, Viens told reporters during a teleconference today.
Vigilant Eagle 13 offered the opportunity to take principles proven in a simulated environment during last year’s command post exercise, and to validate them during the third “live-fly” exercise since the exercise series began in 2008, Viens and Gomenkov reported.
This year’s Vigilant Eagle was the first time Canadian fighter jets participated, with Canadian CF-18 Hornets and Russian Federation Su-27 Sukhois aircraft following and intercepting the “hijacked” aircraft, Gomenkov noted.
But the exercise delivered another first, with a visual fighter-to-fighter handoff of escort responsibilities in a live-fly situation as the “track of interest” moved from one country’s airspace to another’s.
“During previous Vigilant Eagle events, Russian or NORAD fighters would escort the simulated aircraft to a point in the sky where airborne or ground sensors would take over the monitoring of the hijacked aircraft,” Viens explained. “Later on the route, the fighters of the other nation would intercept the hijacked aircraft and assume escort responsibilities for that track of interest.
“So at no time in the past did we exercise having the Russian, Canadian or American fighters all joining up together to have a positive handoff of escort responsibility on a track of interest,” he said. “This is what we did for the first time this year.”
That crucial step forward in the Vigilant Eagle series required extensive planning and coordination to ensure a safe, successful transfer, he said.
“We have never done this together in the past, and it went off without a hitch,” Viens said. “What this has enabled us to do is have 100 percent control over an aircraft in trouble that is flying between Russian, American and Canadian airspace. Working together as partners in the air and on the ground, we were able to ensure the safety of the civilians in the aircraft, our collective citizens and the safe landing of the aircraft at its destination.”
Gomenkov praised the professionalism of all three countries’ militaries throughout the exercise planning and said he looks forward to seeing the Vigilant Eagle series continue to build in complexity.
Viens said he, too, sees opportunities to refine the tactics, techniques and procedures being advanced through the exercise, hinting that some new “curve balls” could be introduced in the future.
Planning for Vigilant Eagle 14 is scheduled to begin in November, Gomenkov said, noting that both Russia and NORAD will offer suggestions on how to build on this year’s exercise.
Exercising together builds confidence and understanding that enables the United States, Canada and Russia to operate together more effectively, Viens said. “So clearly from a NORAD perspective, there is a great deal of interest to continue this tradition of Vigilant Eagle exercises to further promote cooperation – especially when it comes to air-space activities that require the attention of both Russia and NORAD,” he said.