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Context of 'September 10, 2001: NORAD Setting Stage for Major Exercise, Preparing for Possible Russian Reaction'

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The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is responsible for detecting and responding to any attack on the mainland United States, is in the early stages of a major training exercise called Vigilant Guardian that is to take place off the shores of the northeastern US and Canada. The exercise is not scheduled to really take off until the following day, September 11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but simulated intelligence briefings and meetings are now being held to set the stage for the mock engagements to come. According to author Lynn Spencer, Vigilant Guardian “is the kind of war game that the Russians usually respond to, even in this post-Cold War era.” The Russians have in fact announced that they will be deploying aircraft to several of their “Northern Tier” bases on September 11. Russian jets have penetrated North American airspace during previous NORAD exercises, and Colonel Robert Marr, the commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), has prepared for them to do so again during the current exercise. If this happens, armed US fighter jets will intercept the Russian aircraft and escort them back to their own territory. In case there is any confrontation, Marr has ordered that his alert fighter jets be loaded with additional fuel and weapons. According to Spencer, on September 11, all alert fighters will be “loaded with live missiles in anticipation of any show of force that might be needed to respond to the Russians.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 3-5] NORAD has already announced that it is deploying fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean throughout this week (see September 9, 2001). [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the Vigilant Guardian exercise will in fact postulate “a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Marr, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [US Congress, n.d.; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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