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NORAD Looks Inward

2:27 PM, Nov 20, 2009 • By JOHN NOONAN
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The New York Times has an interesting article up on the role of US and Canadian air defense in the post-9/11 world. Between 2001 and 2007, NORAD provided for regular combat air patrols over major US cities. Due to the spiraling costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, military planners swapped out those active CAPs for a Cold War style of alert posturing, where fighter aircraft are fueled and ready to scramble upon receipt of a tactical warning.

That system, it seems, is also too expensive for some in the government -- as the GAO recently launched an inquiry into the Air Force's self-evaluation processes for determining size and force structure of our air defense fleets. The Times emphasizes two points that support cutting the number of on-alert aircraft: an increasingly limited number of fighters, and cost. Both are valid -- to an extent.

But the irony is, while the internal homeland air defense load may have been mitigated by better airline security measures, the overall demands on NORAD fighter aircraft have increased. A few years ago, Russia resumed bomber flights within close-proximity of the US and Canadian borders. That upped Northern Command's alert requirement, in that they had to start looking externally as well as internally. The probability of a surprise Russian bomber attack is nil, but with 200 bombers -- many of them supersonic and all nuclear capable -- it's a threat that NORAD has to take seriously. Add that to the fact that the Air Force is working with roughly half the F-22 interceptors that they originally planned for, and you can understand why military strategists have become frustrated with what's becoming a Sisyphean task.

We're entering an era where our two oceans can no longer protect the US homeland. Military technology has just become too advanced to be restricted by range and distance. That means we need to be very careful about cutting our fighter forces and missile defense systems. 21st century homeland defense is too serious to do on a nickel's budget.