9-11: War Games; an update

Russian “Missile Shot”

I just rediscovered a short audio conversation at Position 22, Operations Phone 5122, Herndon Center that indicates the National Operations Manager (NOM), Ben Sliney, was aware of the Russian “missile shot.”  That primary source information is an update to my first article on “Training, Exercises, and War Games.”

The 8:17 call came from Oakland to Herdon Center asking who the NOM was and to speak with him.  Herndon Center asked the nature of the call and was told it had to do with the Russian “missile shot.”

That request can be heard here.  081709 Oakland Sliney Russian Missile Shot There is no known audio recording of Oakland’s conversation with Ben Sliney.

The threat, in perspective

For the first time in the post-Cold War era the Russians had scheduled an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) live-fire exercise.  The exercise was ongoing the morning of 9-11.  It had the nation’s attention.

In the course of my staff work I saw the briefing slides prepared for the Chairman JCS intelligence brief that morning.  At the Pentagon, General Myers likely saw a slide depicting the ALCM threat to CONUS as part of the brief.  I estimate he didn’t spend much time on it; he simply looked to see if the threat had changed.

It was a slide he had seen multiple times over the years.  The slide I saw as part of his brief was little different from one I was responsible for maintaining in the early 1980’s while stationed at the Intelligence Center, Pacific supporting the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command.

General Myers likely saw the slide sometime before 7:30.   A little more than two hours later terrorists flew a hijacked commercial airliner into the Pentagon.  That was not the threat of the day briefed to the Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Addendum March 21, 2010


Herndon Center tape 5DCC 1927 Ops phone 5134 Position 34 1215-1315 UTC provides additional information important to understanding how the Center worked, specifically the Strategic Planning Team (SPT) using the SPO (Strategic Plan of Operations) as the National Airspace System (NAS) operators dealt with the Russian exercise and missile shoot.  Position 34 is the National Operations Manager position.

A study done in 2000 on weather processes and product requirements provides insight to both the SPT and the SPO.  Even though the study was weather-related the procedures discussed pertain to any of the frequent planning conferences held each day at Herndon Center.

Why are planning conferences so frequent, on the order of every two hours?  Because Herndon Center is in business to manage chaos.  Nothing is more chaotic than weather.  The Butterfly Effect of weather is a defining term for chaos in the literature.  Although weather was the primary reason for a planning conference, in this case the conference was used to discuss the Russian exercise.

The study cited also establishes that one of eight large screen displays at the Herndon Center as of 2000 was the “National Traffic Situation Display (TSD).

We pick up the audio from an ongoing “SPO” conference at 8:15.  Why 8:15?  The Commission Staff requested four hours of tape from every Herndon Center position, 8:15 to 12:15, to cover the time of the four hijackings.

East Coast Discussion

As we listen in, Herndon Center concluded that Boston Center and the Canadians (Montreal) will provide a briefing at the end of the 9:15 SPO, as it was referred to by one participant.  The intended audience was the carriers and that participant asked if the European carriers could be included.  That first conversation can be heard here.  081505 Herndon Center SPO

Separate Conference Recommended

In this segment we hear the reason for inviting the European carriers.  They had “quite a few questions the other night.”  Boston Center recommended a separate telecon.  That second conversation can be hear here.  (Note this is one continuous conversation that I’ve broken up to limit the file size of any one segment.)  081550 separate conference suggested

Time Set and Changed

In this segment we first hear a time of 1400Z (9:00) recommended.  Gander suggested a later time, 1430Z (9:30) to make sure every one had the tracks.  This is a reference to declared Russian tracks.  Russia was required to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), a copy should be in the Commission master files.  That conversation can be heard here.   081653 time set, tracks mentioned

Advise Edmonton and Anchorage

Manchester recommended that Edmonton and Anchorage be advised later in the day, as well.  The reason was to make them aware of the Russian restrictions last night (September 10) and what was going to happen tonight (September 11).  That conversation can be heard here.  081747 Advise Edmonton and Anchorage

Ben Sliney Working the Issue

In this next conversation we learn that Ben Sliney was dealing last night (September 10) with two issues (Boston/Montreal and Edmonton/Anchorage, two areas).  Ben was aware of the impact of last night and what could be expected today (September 11).  That conversation can be heard here.  081835 Ben Sliney involved

Russian NOTAM Compliance Mandatory

The last substantive question asked for confirmation that the tracks would be put out.  Herndon Center said they would put the tracks out now and a second time with a reminder that compliance with the Prestwick NOTAM was mandatory.  That conversation can be heard here.  081913 Compliance with NOTAM mandatory


This addendum establishes that Oakland Center called Herndon Center asking to speak to Ben Sliney while a national planning conference was ongoing to address the Russian exercise.

Herndon Center had long established procedures in place to manage extraordinary events.  It handled the Russian exercise in a simple and straight forward manner.  All parties had their say and consensus was reached on who needed to know what.  Russia was in compliance and had issued a Notice to Airmen.  The Russian exercise had no impact on the NAS and only limited impact on the existing air defense posture.

Two “areas” are mentioned; Boston/Montreal and Edmonton/Anchorage.  We know that the air defense response was to forward deploy air defense fighters in Canada and Alaska and that the dedicated air defense fighters on the east coast carried added fuel tanks and armament.