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(8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Operations Center in Colorado Participating in ‘Simulated Air War’ Training Exercise

Jeff Ford.Jeff Ford. [Source: Thomas Doscher / US Air Force]Personnel in NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, take part in a major Cold War-style training exercise called Vigilant Guardian, a war game in which the theoretical enemy is Russia. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; Denver Post, 8/28/2011; Colorado Springs Gazette, 9/10/2011] All of NORAD, including its subordinate units (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), participates in the exercise. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] More than 50 people in the NORAD Battle Management Center in Cheyenne Mountain take part. [Airman, 3/2002; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Vigilant Guardian is an annual exercise and is scheduled to last two weeks. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] It has been underway for several days. Those in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) have been participating in it “for at least three or four days,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011]
Vigilant Guardian Is a 'Full-Blown Nuclear War' Exercise - Vigilant Guardian is a “transition to wartime operations command post exercise,” according to an information page for its participants. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001] The 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11 will describe it as a “simulated air war.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that it involves NORAD “simulating war.… You know, attacks coming from the outside, Soviet-style bombers coming in, cruise-missile attacks, that type of thing.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Vigilant Guardian is a “full-blown nuclear war” exercise, and includes bomber response and intercontinental ballistic missile response. [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004]
Russia Is Imagined Enemy - The theoretical enemy in the exercise is Russia. [Denver Post, 8/28/2011] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the exercise “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Merchant will explain that “NORAD must use Russia in its exercises at the strategic level since no other country poses a great enough threat to NORAD’s capabilities and responsibilities.” [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004]
Personnel Updated on Exercise during Shift Change - Armstrong will later recall that today starts off “like any other day. We came in thinking it would be a normal day… we did a standard shift changeover in the morning and we were getting right into where we were at in relation to the exercise.” He will describe that in a shift change during the exercise, “We’d say, ‘Okay, here’s what happened during the night shift (or the day shift),’ and we’d give each other an update, and then we’d start planning for whatever was on the agenda for that day.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to the Denver Post, after commencing his shift, Armstrong “mapped out strategy in a chess game of ever-escalating scenarios, from strained diplomacy to the outbreak of conventional warfare that headed inexorably toward nuclear conflict” with Russia. [Denver Post, 8/28/2011]
B-1 Bomber Scheduled to Fly out over Pacific Ocean - The “planned big event for the day” in the exercise is “supposed to be a B-1 bomber that was flying out of Fairchild Air Force Base [in Washington State] and going out over the Pacific,” according to Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is working in the CMOC. Ford will add that there are “other things going on as part of the exercise, air exercise events, and then some scripted inputs that we were reacting to there in the Air Warning Center, whether it be unknown aircraft that we scramble aircraft for to intercept—or whatever.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
Exercise Posture Allegedly Helps Response to Attacks - Vigilant Guardian will reportedly end after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the CMOC personnel participating in it will then become involved in responding to the real-world attacks. [Airman, 3/2002; Toronto Star, 11/11/2008] Glover will claim that the CMOC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the position the operations center is in for the exercise. He will say NORAD is “lucky” because “all the directorates such as operations, logistics, security, all those folks were up in the [Cheyenne] Mountain on an exercise posture.” He will add that “these are the same folks that we would bring up in case of contingencies or in time of going to war. So, in reality, I had all the guys up into the NORAD Battle Management Center that I needed to conduct the exercise as well as the contingency operations that happened on 9/11.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
NORAD Monitoring Russian Exercise - NORAD was created in 1958, during the Cold War, to protect North American airspace against nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. [New York Times, 4/25/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2004; Legion Magazine, 11/2004] According to the Toronto Star, “Whether it’s a simulation or a real-world event, the role of the [CMOC] is to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] As well as the Vigilant Guardian exercise, NORAD is currently in the middle of an operation called Northern Vigilance, with its fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor an exercise being run by the Russian Air Force (see September 9, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] The battle staff members in Cheyenne Mountain are positioned to deal with both this operation and the exercise. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ford, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Steven Armstrong, Vigilant Guardian, William Glover, Ken Merchant

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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