Nato-Russia Council

Live exercises set to test response to hijacked planes

NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative Vigilant SkiesNATO and Russian Federation fighter jets escort an aircraft during exercise Vigilant Skies 2011

An important NRC capability against terrorism in the skies will be put to the test this autumn.

The NRC’s air traffic monitoring system, the Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI) will have its readiness to detect and respond to hijacked planes tested with live exercises code-named “Vigilant Skies”, on 23 to 27 September.

In the next weeks, look out for the NRC website in-depth coverage of Vigilant Skies, including interviews with the CAI controllers themselves and live coverage of the exercises as they take place.

‘Vigilant Skies’ tests NRC response to hijacked aircraft

The ‘Vigilant Skies’ exercises will take place over several days in the skies between Poland and Russia, and Russia and Turkey. Under the first part of the exercise, a simulated ‘renegade’ civilian aircraft will take off in Poland and move towards Kaliningrad, Russia. Working together through the CAI system, air traffic controllers in Warsaw and Moscow will identify the plane as a potential problem and scramble Russian and Polish fighters to intercept and escort the ‘renegade’ aircraft back to the airfield.

The second part of the exercise will conduct a similar scenario, but this time over the Black Sea. Turkish and Russian air traffic controllers and fighter jets will be working together to identify, intercept and escort the renegade aircraft, and neutralise the threat that such a situation could pose to population centres across the NRC.

Throughout the live exercises, CAI controllers from NRC nations will be working together to share their airspace data, and determine which actions to take in response to the renegade aircraft as they would in a real life terrorist threat from a civilian aircraft.

The aim of the exercises will be to test CAI’s overall effectiveness in terms of how the air traffic control personnel, technology and military work together in this multinational system against a real threat to NRC nations.

Observers from NRC nations will also be present during the exercises in Moscow and Warsaw. They will be there to view what looks set to be an exciting display of NRC nations’ technical interconnectedness and military interoperability. Particularly with the fighter planes from Poland and Russia and then Russia and Turkey flying together in formation to observe, and then escort back to safety the ‘renegade aircraft’.

The Cooperative Airspace Initiative – an NRC counter terrorism capability

A key part of the NRC’s cooperative work on countering terrorism, CAI is an air traffic control system which first began in 2006. It aims to detect and deal with the threat of terrorists hijacking civilian aircrafts in 9/11-type scenarios that have the potential to cause catastrophic consequences for population centres.

To identify and respond to this threat, through the CAI system NRC nations share relevant radar information which improves dramatically nations’ forewarning about suspect aircraft. Once a problem has been identified, CAI nations have also agreed procedures to work together to deal with the threat.

The three NRC regions covered by CAI are the geographic spaces between Norway and Russia, Poland and Russia, and between Turkey and Russia. CAI’s two central coordination centres are located in Moscow and Warsaw. In addition, each of the three zones has a pair of local coordination centres: Bodø and Murmansk, Kaliningrad and Warsaw, and Ankara and Rostov-on-Don. Each of the pairs is connected by communications equipment which facilitates voice to voice communication as well as the potential to share radar data on air traffic.

"Vigilant Skies" 2013

Watch below for video simulations of the planned Vigilant Skies exercises