The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Russian Federation Air Force (RFAF) have successfully completed their annual cooperative air defence exercise, Vigilant Eagle 2013.
Carried out in Alaska, US and Anadyr, Russia, with support from the Royal Canadian Air Force, the exercise was aimed at improving the countries' ability to provide a coordinated response in the event of a terrorist attack on a passenger aircraft.
Representing the overall fifth drill in the series, the exercise featured two hijacked international flights: one originating in Alaska and travelling into Russian airspace, followed by the other originating in Anadyr, Russia, and travelling into US airspace.
The US and Russian air forces launched or diverted fighter jets to investigate and follow the suspect aircraft, after it failed to respond to communications, and also participated in co-operative escort and handoff of the aircraft within the same airspace.
NORAD Operations director major general Andre Viens said the exercise successfully achieved all established objectives.
''Through the Vigilant Eagle exercise series we have developed and refined tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively notify, coordinate and conduct positive handoff of a terrorist hijacked aircraft flying between Russian, Canadian and American airspace,'' Viens said.
Russian Federation Air Force, Aerospace Defense Brigade commander major general Dmitry Viktorovich Gomenkov said the drill was successful in fulfilling two main objectives, and attributed successful execution of the live-fly phase to command and control and the actions of the pilots.
The US Air Force's airborne warning and control system (AWACS) and Russia's A-50 Beriev served as command-and-control platforms, while Canadian CF-18 Hornet and Russian Sukhoi fighters tracked, intercepted and followed the hijacked aircraft, while participating in air-to-air refuelling operations.
The hijacked commercial airliners were simulated by a Russian Tupolev and a commercial aircraft contracted by the US.
Initiated in 2008, Vigilant Eagle intends to continue development of cooperation between the Russian air force and NORAD in preventing and combating potential air terrorism threats.
Image: A Russian Su-27 Sukho intercepts a simulated hijacked aircraft entering Russian airspace during Vigilant Eagle 2013. Photo: courtesy of tech sgt Jason Robertson.