Posts Tagged ‘911’


January 26, 2010


By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

NORAD is now examining the state of its air defence capabilities to see if it has the right mix of aircraft, number of bases and alert times to properly conduct its homeland defence mission.

And should the joint U.S.-Canadian military organization cut back on the number of aircraft and bases it needs to do the job?

The news of the review has sparked some angst in the U.S., with former U.S. Air Force officers suggesting that the process is being driven by budget cuts and will ultimately undercut North American air defences. Lt.-Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former commander for NORAD’s Alaska region, says he is concerned air defences could be cut back and that the U.S. is  “being lulled” into removing dollars from NORAD to put into other areas of defence.

The U.S. no longer conducts regular combat fighter aircraft patrols over its cities as it did in the years following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. Such missions were expensive, at one point costing more than $50 million a week.

But in an interview with Defence Watch, Canadian Maj.-Gen. Pierre Forgues, NORAD’s director of operations, played down the money angle. Forgues said although fighter aircraft and support planes are costly to operate, the price tag for such equipment wasn’t behind the decision to review the state of air defences.

He also suggested that the air defence status quo could continue.

Forgues said that the review will start “with a blank slate” and that there are no pre-conceived notions of what exactly would be needed to do such at job. But at the same time, Forgues readily acknowledged that NORAD is relatively happy with the current situation. “We’re comfortable at this point we’re meeting the requirements,” he added.

The New York Times reported that the study is focused on circumstances in which the attack would be aimed not at a public building or landmark but instead at a power plant or a critical link in the nation’s financial network, like a major electrical grid or a computer network hub.

But Forgues told Defence Watch that such scenarios have been on NORAD’s radar since Sept. 11, 2001.

So why this review now?

In January, the Government Accounting Office, similar to Canada’s Auditor General, called on the U.S. air force to improve the management of its operations to protect American airspace. It recommended that the U.S. portion of NORAD routinely conduct assessments to determine the requirements of air sovereignty alert missions as well as the appropriate numbers of personnel and aircraft assigned to support those operations.

In 2008, the GAO also took the Pentagon and NORAD to task for understating the security problems and vulnerabilities involved when NORAD moved from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Air Force Base.

Perhaps the GAO’s criticisms struck a chord with NORAD’ senior leadership.

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at: