9-11: NEADS; Exercise Vigilant Guardian, in perspective, Sep 7

This is a continuation of my review of NEADS tapes covering the days prior to 9-11.  In this article I provide details concerning exercise activity on Sep 7, 2001. Sep 6 was devoted to a military cargo plane, Cargo 45, in distress and squawking the hijack code 7700.  The main event for Sep 7 was something different; a defection

There are several things of interest in the tapes, including examples of NEADS distinction between real world and exercise.  However, the most important event of the day was the defection and how it was handled by both the control staff and the exercise staff.

Defection discussed

Soon after the exercise started that morning a short conversation revealed that a defection was on the schedule.  Here is that conversation intermingled with another, separate conversation.  0907134746 Defection planned for later.  And in this next clip additional descriptive material was added.  0907134913 Added information

Routine exercise activity

Beginning in the afternoon the audio files reveal routine activity as NEADS dealt with tracks of interest.  By midafternoon NEADS was dealing with an unknown track B337.  Here is the clip which shows a call to the sim cell for clarification and the acknowledgement that someone did not reach out to FAA.  0907191845 Exercise Insight The decision was made to hold a scramble.

And here is the official announcement by the ID section to the floor that the unknown was friendly.  This is an example of how exercise announcements are correctly handled, the ID technician began and ended his announcement stating it was for the exercise.  0907191935 Keeping Exercise Separate

Tracking the Russians (and Cubans)

Here is a specific example of an “intel” input to the exercise, this one concerns an IL 96 to Cuba.  0907193918 IL 96 to Cuba Intel Input

At this point in the exercise it becomes apparent that NEADS was concerned about potentially hostile foreign aircraft.  A brief conversation about a Cubana flight was followed by this more extensive exchange concerning a Russian flight.  0907195250 Tracking the Russians In this case the flight of interest was a Moscow to Havana flight that was being special tracked.

The concern for Russian and Cuban aircraft was mirrored in the real world as an exchange a few minutes later shows.  0907195950 Russian Real World

Despite the rigorous split between exercise and real world a Russian plane became confused.  According to information in this clip the NEADS scopes could be changed from exercise to real world at the flip of a switch.  0907200630 Live Side Sim Side discussion

Things got a bit more confusing.  NEADS was dealing with a northern track and a southern track as is clear from the previous clip.  In this next clip NEADS discussed a northern track with their Canadian counterparts who reported the aircraft, a Beechcraft, probably crashed and that search and rescue had been notified.  0907200830 Canada discussion crashed aircraft

The NEADS floor continued to confuse Russian flights.  In this clip the issue is whether an Aeroflot flight is civilian or military.  The clip includes a simulation conversation with New York Center.  0907203209 More Russian confusion.  Huntress ID confirmed it to be civilian, real world, JFK to Moscow. 0907203455 Real World JFK to Moscow

The position we are listening to also had real world duties.  In this clip we hear calls the command group and the DO (Director of Operations) with the evening brief, an apparent daily requirement.  The real world was quiet and the exercise was mentioned as something with which they were busy.  0907204328 Briefing Key Personnel

Deviating Aeroflot flight, what to do

A few minutes later the NEADS floor had to deal with a deviating Russian aircraft that wanted to land at JFK.  FAA’s New York Center (ZNY) military desk is simulated and NEADS learned that FAA did not want the airplane to land at JFK.  Here is how NEADS initially reacted; battle stations only.  0907205030 Aeroflot defection to JFK

In this next clip we learn that the purpose of the event was to exercise how NEADS handles a defection not a deviation.  0907205328 Defection not Deviation NEADS immediately sought clarification as to whether FAA authorized the deviation or not.  0907205458 Clarification sought However, ZNY became insistent that the plane not land at JFK and pushed the NEADS floor which, in turn, passed the decision along to, most likely, the battle cab.  We hear only one end of the conversation with the battle cab.  0907205543 ZNY becomes insistent

The NEADS floor decision was to divert the aircraft to Suffolk County Airport and turned the problem over to FAA; there would not be a scramble.  0907205703 Suffolk County no scramble A floor discussion ensued about alternate fields, that Suffolk was too small.  Moreover, according to FAA (simulated) the pilot did not want to land at Suffolk.

The controllers were insistent that a scramble be generated.  0907205933 Controllers force a scramble NEADS did scramble Atlantic City, the order can be heard in the background  0907210138 Scrambled generated

Thereafter, the NEADS floor decided the event would be treated as a deviation and they went down their checklist.  One voice raised the question about what they were going to do with the plane.  The answer was to not to intercept pending approval from higher headquarters.  This an example of how NEADS would have handled an intercept on 9-11 had they been notified of a deviation.  0907210428 Scramble discussed

Once NEADS had gone through the checklist procedures the control cell representing ZNY informed NEADS that the situation had been resolved by “higher headquarters,” mililtary and civilian, the aircraft was to be allowed to land at JFK.  0907210858 Resolution land JFK However, the problem remained about what to do with the flight once it landed.

Event end game

NEADS continued to discuss intercept authority and decided that the defector should land at Westover; FAA said the pilot agreed.  While NEADS was working the issue they received a call from CONR for an update.  0907211426 CONR call

Here is a clip with additional insight as to how NEADS operated.  0907211753 How NEADS operated

Apparently the FBI was supposed to field eercise calls concerning defectors.  However, when NEADS attempted to reach them the desk was not manned.  Therefore, the controllers handled the NEADS request.  This clip provides insight into the phone list that NEADS used for the exercise.  0907211952 FBI and Exercise Phone List

There was little to do thereafter except keep the fighters in the area and at altitude until the defector actually “landed” at Westover, which he did.  Thereafter the fighters were ordered to return to base, “RTB.”  0907214444 Aircraft secured RTB

There was one other later call that further defined the simulation aspects of the exercise.  In this clip we hear the simulated air operations cell at Atlantic City report the status of an aircraft previously not available.  0907215250 Atlantic City simulated air operations

A real world call of interest

That evening the NEADS floor received a routine call from Boston Center asking for the next days air activity.  That exchange of information can be heard on this clip.  0907224845 Real World Coord with Boston Center

I asked Colin Scoggins (at ZBW on 9-11) to listen to the clip and verify that it was a known voice to him; it was.  He further said that ZBW did not participate in Vigilant Guardian.

Here is Colin’s email response:

“Yes that is ZBW, that is ***** (not sure of the spelling)…That is the daily scheduling for the next day, they coordinate it the night before.   The call was normally initiated by ZBW, once we received the FAX for their request.  Then we would normally call around 7 PM, this is followed in the morning at around 6 AM local when we reconfirm the schedule.  I beleive that call is initated by us as well.  We had no play in Vigilant Guardian at ZBW, didn’t even know a thing about it.  That would be normal by the way.”

A Personal Comment

I consider this article to be a final draft.  When I have time I want to go back and review the floor conversations concerning the several Russian aircraft and tracks.  I will revise this post if/when necessary.

It will be a few weeks before I post concerning Sep 8.  This is a tedious, iterative process and I won’t have further access to my audio files until after Dec 1, 2010.