- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The North American Aerospace Defense Command again will track Santa Claus’ progress on Christmas Eve, but this year the jolly old elf’s sleigh will be escorted by two U.S. fighter jets.

“The aircraft are not armed,” said NORAD spokesman Navy Cmdr. Bill Lewis, adding that “we are using satellite systems, radars, fighter jets” to ensure St. Nick’s safe passage around the world.

NORAD, which has tracked Santa’s flight since 1955, also will use a new interactive website — noradsanta.org — to display his path this year.

“It has more of an operational look, so people can understand what all the pieces are that NORAD uses every day to safeguard the homeland,” Cmdr. Lewis said.

It is unclear whether Santa will have to register his flight plans in advance with China, which declared a new air defense zone over international waters in the East China Sea.

“I can’t speak as to what they would be willing to do,” Cmdr. Lewis said of Chinese authorities, noting that Santa is so hard to target that fighter jets can’t always keep up with him.

“He does fly as fast as starlight,” he said. “We’re told that Santa will slow down and exchange a wave with the fighter pilots.”

The Pentagon is taking some criticism for marketing military service to children in its whimsical holiday tradition.

“If the military wants to keep its ranks stocked, it needs to appeal to children,” Amy Hagopian, professor of public health at the University of Washington, told the Boston Globe.

“The military knows it can’t appeal to adults to volunteer. It is like the ad industry,” she said.

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