U.S. trains pilots to down hijacked jetliners
Evenhanded title from the IHT
The U.S. military practices how to shoot down hijacked commercial airliners as often as three or four times a week, honing its defenses against terrorist attacks on American cities, a senior general said.
They'd be stoopid if they didn't...
The frequency of the military exercises, which range from testing local air defense ground crews to simulating a nationwide series of terrorist attacks, reflects the concerns of senior military and civilian authorities that hijacked jetliners could still pose a threat on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes in Washington and New York, despite a range of new security measures the airlines and government have put into effect since then.
Good to know we’re not being lulled into a sense of safety quite yet.
In a wide-ranging breakfast interview with defense reporters Thursday and in a separate conversation at the Pentagon later, Eberhart said the rehearsals did not reflect any new specific threats. Rather, he said, the no-notice drills were a grim reminder that the country remains engaged in a global campaign against terror and must stand ready to thwart any attacks. "After Sept. 11, it became obvious that this was a new world, even uglier than we imagined," Eberhart said.
And it’s going to get uglier if one of those shoulder-launched missiles that are floating around hits an airliner.
Before Sept. 11, the Pentagon had no formal rules on how the military should deal with airliners taken over by hijackers bent on using them as weapons. Now, Eberhart said, military pilots and air defense crews are routinely quizzed on the rules of engagement involving a hijacked jet, and are asked which officials are authorized to order the downing of such aircraft and how to verify such life-and-death orders.
Good. Pilots need clear guidelines, for operational and ethical reasons both.
Air force pilots who fly missions that could be ordered to down a hijacked jet are specially certified and trained, and they undergo psychological evaluations to ensure they are not "trigger-hesitant" at the moment of decision. Ultimately, the decision to shoot down an airliner would rest with the president, but Bush has authorized two midlevel air force generals to order a plane downed in the event that he, Rumsfeld or Eberhart were out of contact and an attack were seconds away. Norad has scrambled or diverted fighter jets already airborne more than 1,500 times since the Sept. 11 attacks to check out aircraft that have strayed off course, have inadvertently turned off their transponders or have an unruly passenger aboard.
Following on the Afghan operation plus the years of no-fly-zone enforcement over Iraq, our USAF pilots have been keeping up a really tough "op tempo" for the last few years.
Posted by: Robin Burk 2003-10-03