- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

An Army air-defense unit successfully carried out a radar exercise in Washington last week to improve efforts to intercept hijacked airliners and other enemy aircraft.

The exercise by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, was code-named Clear Skies and took place during two days last week, defense officials told The Washington Times.

The exercise involved two U.S. Army mobile radars but no interceptor missiles, the officials said.

Thirty troops from the Army's 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., were deployed to several military bases in the region, said a NORAD spokesman, Marine Corps Maj. Mike Snyder.

Maj. Snyder declined to provide specific details about the exercise but said it was a "radar-capabilities exercise" that linked the Army's mobile radar trackers to NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector monitoring base in Rome, N.Y.

"What we were doing is looking at ways to employ air defenses better," Maj. Snyder said.

"We've taken quantum leaps forward from 9/11 just in an effort to improve command and control, and the exercise last week was a step toward that end," he said.

An Army spokesman said the radar used in the exercise was the Sentinel system, the service's most advanced air-defense radar. The radar detects and reports such targets as aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles to air-defense weapons systems.

The Army unit that took part in the exercises uses the radar with the Avenger and Linebacker air-defense missile systems. The Avenger uses Stinger anti-aircraft missiles mounted on a humvee, and the Linebacker is a tank-mounted version of the system.

The exercise was one of 70 NORAD exercises held around the United States since the September 11 attacks. Other exercises have included civilian jetliners full of military men playing the role of passengers.

Maj. Snyder said the secrecy surrounding details of the exercises is intended to prevent terrorists or other adversaries from learning air-defense capabilities and finding holes in them.

"It's still a dangerous world, and we do not want to give the bad guys any notice," Maj. Snyder said.

A defense official said the exercise tested the Army unit's ability to track commercial airliners and other aircraft in the Washington area.

On September 11, President Bush ordered Air Force jets to shoot down any airliner heading for Washington or New York that would not divert its flight path from those cities. The order was given after a hijacked commercial jetliner crashed into the Pentagon. Two other jets had already crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

Two F-16 jets were dispatched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia after NORAD was alerted to a hijacked airliner heading for Washington, although the military planes did not yet have the president's authority to shoot down the airliner.

The jets were 12 minutes, or 105 miles away, when the jetliner hit the Pentagon, killing 189 persons. Military jets had the authority to shoot down the fourth airliner in the attacks, United Airlines Flight 93, although it was not used because the plane crashed near Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought the hijackers.

Two small airplanes have violated restricted airspace around the District in recent weeks; one apparently was heading for Camp David, and the other prompted the evacuation of the press from the White House.

The Washington exercise was more complex because of the large amount of commercial air traffic in the area from three major airports, Maj. Snyder said. "It's important to note that there were no weapons deployed" in the maneuvers last week, he said.

Maj. Snyder said the use of ground radar in aircraft-tracking exercises is a relatively new mission for NORAD, a U.S.-Canadian command based in Colorado Springs. The exercise last week was limited to U.S. military personnel because of issues related to rules of engagement, he said.

NORAD's better-known activities since September 11 include combat air patrols over major U.S. cities and the deployment of airborne warning and control aircraft.

The radar exercise is meant to improve the military's ability to track aircraft in the United States, something that in the past was done primarily by the Federal Aviation Administration, Maj. Snyder said.

The command in the past has focused on tracking jetliners outside U.S. borders and coasts and monitoring missile launches around the world.

NORAD is improving its ability to track aircraft domestically to be able to respond faster than it did on September 11. For example, F-16 jets are able to scramble from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

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