NORAD exercise terms are named in accordance with regulation 11-33 Code Words, Nicknames, and Exercise Names
. Names consist of two words – the first designating the agency and the second designating the type of exercise.
Agencies within the Department of Defense are allocated an alphabetical block of letters which denote the first two letters of the first word of any exercise name. At the time of September 11 this allocation was dictated by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual (CJCSM) 3150.29A (this was replaced by CJCSM 3150.29B on 11 February 2002).
For exercises NORAD has allocated first words to specific agencies:
- HQ NORAD - Amalgam (FIX) or Vigilant (CPX)
- Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) - Fencing
- CONUS NORAD Region - Falcon
- CONUS Southeast Sector (SEADS) - Federal
- CONUS Southwest Sector (SWADS) - Falling
- CONUS Northeast Sector (NEADS) - Fertile
- CONUS Northwest Sector (NWADS) - Felix
- Canadian NORAD Region (CNR) - Fabric
- Canadian NORAD Sector East - Factor
- Canadian NORAD Sector West - Faculty
- Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base - Amazon
In addition, NORAD has identified certain second word nicknames for specific exercise types:
- ANGEL - Sector-coordinated Unit Level FIX (ROCC/SOCC Controlled Intercepts)
- ARIZONA - Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base Internal System Training Mission (STM)
- BRAVE - Region-sponsored System FIX
- CHIEF - JCS-approved, CINCNORAD-sponsored FIX
- DOLLY - HQ NORAD Battle Staff Exercise
- GAIN - Region/sector-sponsored Internal ROCC/SOCC CPX
- GOLD - Sector-coordinated Unit Level FIX (autonomous intercept procedures)
- INDIAN - Region-sponsored System CPX
- KEYNOTE - Region-coordinated, Sector-sponsored FIX
- LEADER - Recall of Airborne Forces (FIX)
- LIBEL - Region-coordinated, Sector-sponsored System CPX
- MUTE - NORAD IG Evaluation
- OVERVIEW - JCS-approved, CINCNORAD-sponsored CPX
- PIPE - Region-sponsored Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Warning and Reporting System (WRS) Training Exercise
- RICE - SOCC-sponsored Internal CPX (Battle Staff/BSSC/Crew training)
- SPADE - Region/sector No-Notice AST
- UNION - Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base SPACC Training
- VANTAGE - Sector-coordinated/scheduled Interoperability FIX with US Navy Units
- VIRGO - Special Exercise or Test (FIX)
- WARRIOR - JCS-approved, CINCNORAD-sponsored FIX
- YELL - FE14A Exercise
There were two NORAD activities happening on September 11. The first was Operation Northern Vigilance.
Throughout the Cold War, when major USA/NORAD/NATO or USSR exercises occurred, the other side would deploy forces to “shadow” the exercise in case it was a cover for an attack. This practice has continued to the present day.
Operation Northern Vigilance was one of these situations. The Russian Federation was holding its largest air deployment since 1993 with a major exercise in Siberia. In response NORAD commenced the operation, deploying units to Canada and Alaska. It is important to note that this was not an exercise, but a real-world operation.
As the NORAD press release indicates, Operation Northern Vigilance commenced on 9 September, and was scheduled to continue until the Russian exercise ended. However, in light of the September 11 attacks, Russian President Vladimir Putin notified the White House that he would call off the exercise, allowing the NORAD aircraft to return home.
Also on 9/11, NORAD was involved in a major annual exercise called Vigilant Guardian
. As we can tell from the name “Vigilant”, this exercise is NORAD HQ sponsored. It is what is referred to as a “Vigilant Overview” type exercise.
In accordance with NORAD regulation 11-33, the first name “Vigilant” tells us that the exercise involves all NORAD commands. The second name “Overview” tells us the exercise is a Joint Chiefs of Staff approved, Commander-in-chief NORAD sponsored CPX (or Command Post Exercise).
The name “Guardian” denotes the unique exercise name, as this is an annual event. It is usually held in conjunction with two other CPXs – “Global Guardian” (US Strategic Command) and “Apollo Guardian” (US Space Command). US Space Command are not directly involved in NORAD defense operations.
As confirmed by Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) in an exchange with Cynthia McKinney on March 11, 2005 NORAD was involved in two CPXs on September 11:
The two CPXs are Global Guardian and Vigilant Guardian.
The Department of Justice exercise referred to by Richard Myers was Tripod II – a joint Department of Justice/FEMA bio-emergency exercise scheduled to take place in New York commencing on 12 September.
The “actual operation” Myers refers to is Operation Northern Vigilance, as previously mentioned.
In addition there was a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) exercise being conducted at their headquarters in Chantilly, Virginia.
Lastly, Richard Clarke, who was counter-terrorism advisor on the National Security Council during the September 11 attacks, claims, in his book Against All Enemies, that an additional exercise named “Vigilant Warrior” was occurring on that day. Clarke attributes the reference to a direct quote by Richard Meyers:
According to NORAD regulations, “Warrior” is a JCS approved, Commander-in-Chief NORAD Sponsored Field Exercise – that is “Live Fly” or involving operational units.
However “Vigilant” is the name reserved for NORAD HQ CPXs, while “Amalgam” is the name used for NORAD HQ FIXs (Field Exercises). Hence such an exercise would be named “Amalgam Warrior”, not “Vigilant Warrior”. “Vigilant Warrior” was in fact the name of an Operation that occurred in the Persian Gulf region in 1994, in response to a movement of Iraqi ground forces towards the Kuwait border. The following year Iraq again tested the UN by moving forces towards Kuwait, resulting in Operation Vigilant Warrior II. Amalgam Warrior
is held twice a year, in the spring for western sectors and in the fall for eastern sectors. The fall exercise is traditionally held in October, thus was most likely cancelled in 2001 due to the enormous strain of Operation Noble Eagle
– the massive NORAD operation to maintain Combat Air Patrols over major US cities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The NORAD recordings of 9/11 include a desperate search by NEADS personnel to locate additional aircraft to supplement the four allocated to them. This clearly indicates they did not have aircraft involved in a field exercise at the time.
In summary, the exercises occurring on September 11 that involved NORAD were “Vigilant Guardian” and “Global Guardian”. According to Myers, these exercise increased the speed with which NORAD responded to the attacks:
The specific details of the exercises vary from year to year, but the overall objective is to test North America’s ability to respond effectively to a nuclear attack.
According to the 9/11 commission:
Ordinarily those participating in Vigilant Guardian would not know in advance what particular events were scheduled. As such, when the first reports of a hijacking reached NEADS at 0837 EDT, a rapid clarification was made with the words “is this real-world or exercise?”
However, as the recordings from NEADS show, once this clarification had been made, the exercises posed no further hindrance to NORAD’s response.
(Note: the exercise was not scheduled to commence until 0900hrs)