WADS organizes large air intercept exercise

  • Published
  • By Capt. Colette Muller, Western Air Defense Sector Public Affairs

Aircrews and associated support personnel from across the military air defense enterprise completed a three-day Aerospace Control Alert CrossTell live-fly training exercise here July 26.

Representatives from Air National Guard fighter wings, Civil Air Patrol, NORAD, and U.S. Coast Guard rotary-wing air intercept units conducted daily live-fly sorties to hone their skills with tactical-level air-intercept procedures.

During the exercise, Air National Guard F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft and U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 helicopters conducted intercept operations of Civil Air Patrol aircraft.  The helicopters are largely tasked with intercepting aircraft with slower airspeeds and other similar characteristics such as those flown by the Civil Air Patrol.

“Today we were flying as a track of interest, simulated that we entered a restricted flying area to enable the fighters to come in and conduct an intercept; to give us a warning to get out of an area we weren’t supposed to be in,” said Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Col. David Terenne, NORAD/USNORTHCOM headquarters staff officer. 

These training scenarios replicated airborne intercepts of aircraft that fly into airspace the FAA has established as temporarily flight restricted airspace. Temporary flight restrictions, or TFRs, are established by the FAA and enforced by the NORAD during high-visibility national-events such as the political nominating conventions, the Super Bowl, State of the Union Address, as well as presidential travel. The FAA posts TFR information in affected areas as notices to airmen to warn general aviation pilots prior to flight about the temporarily-prohibited airspace on their website at www.tfr.faa.gov.

According to Maj. David Nowotenski, Western Air Defense Sector fighter officer and exercise planner, the majority of TFR infractions happen because general aviation pilots are sometimes unaware of the restriction and inadvertently end up where they shouldn’t be.  “We train very seriously for every scenario because without radio or visual contact we have no way to confirm if an aircraft is simply unaware or a little off course or if the situation could be more serious.”

Exercise participants included Air National Guard F-15 Eagles and aircrew from the 142nd Fighter Wing, Portland Air National Guard, Oregon; F-16D Fighting Falcons and aircrews from the 162nd Fighter Wing, Tucson Air National Guard Base, Arizona; air battle managers and personnel from the Western Air Defense Sector, 225th Air Defense Group, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin aircrews from Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey; NORAD personnel, flying a Cessna 182, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; representatives from Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) and support aircraft and crews from the Civil Air Patrol flying Cessna 182s, performing duties in their Air Force Auxiliary role; and the 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild AFB, Washington.

Turenne, who was flying a Cessna 182 for the exercise, is also a Canadian F-18 Hornet pilot and had a unique view of both sides of an aerial intercept. 

“Intercepting these small airplanes is challenging just due to their low airspeed, so I know what the fighter pilots are going through when they are both trying to pick up the small aircraft visually, stay under control and trying to communicate with them at such a slow speed.  It gives me a lot of perspective on where a good spot to fly is, so that you are visible and don’t become a hazard to a small aircraft due to the jet-wash and that type of thing.  We are able to go back and debrief with the fighter pilots and tell them when we actually saw them, what their communications were like, if it was clear to us, so that they can do the best job to alert any general aviation pilot that they are somewhere they shouldn’t be,” said Turenne.

The exercise has been carefully planned and closely controlled to ensure CONR’s rapid response capability. NORAD has conducted exercise flights of this nature throughout the U.S. and Canada since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to Col. Brett Bosselmann, commander of the 225th Air Defense Squadron of the Western Air Defense Sector, the goal of this exercise was to get as many key players in one location and give them an opportunity to work and debrief together and have longer, more in depth conversations about small improvements that can be made, something that can be lost through digital communication. 

“We train these scenarios often.  We need to be prepared for any threat to U.S. airspace sovereignty.  We also understand the importance and value any experience that gives us more insight into the unique language and operational capabilities and limitations of our partners in the airspace defense arena.  This week has been a tremendous success and a great learning experience for our people,” said Bosselmann.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, CONR has safely escorted all violators out of restricted airspace. Additionally, CONR fighters have responded to more than 5,000 possible air threats in the United States and flown approximately 68,000 sorties with the support of Airborne Warning and Control System and air-to-air-refueling aircraft.

The Western Air Defense Sector is staff by active-duty Washington Air National Guardsmen, Royal Canadian Air Force, U.S. Navy liaison officers, and Federal civilians.   The unit supports the NORAD integrated warning and attack assessment missions and the USNORTHCOM homeland defense mission. WADS is responsible for air sovereignty and counter-air operations over the Western United States and directs a variety of assets to defend 2.2 million square miles of land and sea west of the Mississippi River.

Civil Air Patrol's volunteer pilots and aircrew fly single-engine Cessna airplanes to act as tracks of interest that violate restricted airspace for this exercise. By utilizing the selfless service of the Air Force Auxiliary as a total force partner during these missions, real-world training can be conducted at a fraction of the cost compared to utilizing other United States Coast Guard or Air Force aircraft. Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress more than 75 years ago. Learn more about their stories of volunteer service at www.cap.news.

For more information on CONR’s air defense mission and the mission of the Western Air Defense Sector visit www.facebook.com/americasaoc, www.facebook.com/WesternAirDefenseSector, www.1af.acc.af.mil and www.wads.ang.af.mil.