The Air Defense Network
|A room in the Cheyanne Mountain Operations Center|
NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is the defense shield that normally protects the United States against all forms of airborne attack, including by hijacked aircraft. Any time an aircraft deviates from its course, air traffic controllers request a military intercept according to military response code 7610-4J. Intercept times are especially short in the east-coast corridor where there are numerous bases with combat-ready aircraft on continuous alert.
On September 11th, 2001, the standard operating procedures were apparently suspended.
NORAD's mission is supported by the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center which collects data from a worldwide system of satellites, radars, and other sensors and processes that information in real-time. This nerve center continuously monitors events in the airspace of the United Space and of the world. An unofficial website contains the following rundown on some of its capabilities.
The Command Center is the heart of operations in Cheyenne Mountain. In this center, the Command Director and his crew serve as the NORAD and U.S. Space Command Commander in Chief's direct representative for monitoring, processing, and interpreting missile, space or air events which could have operational impacts on our forces or capabilities, or could be potential threats to North America or U.S. and allied forces overseas. The Command Center is linked directly to the National Command Authorities of both the U.S. and Canada as well as to regional command centers overseas. When required, the Command Director must consult directly with the NORAD and U.S. Space Command Commander in Chief for time-critical assessments of missile, air, and space events; he takes action to ensure the Commander in Chief's response and direction are properly conveyed and executed.
Air Defense Operations Center:
The Air Defense Operations Center provides command and control for the air surveillance and air defense network for North America. In 1994, they monitored over 700 "unknown" radar tracks entering North American airspace. Many of these were subsequently identified as friendly aircraft that had erred from flight plans or used improper procedures. Yet nearly 100 were identified as illegal drug-carrying aircraft that were subsequently prosecuted by the U.S. and Canadian Drug Enforcement Agencies.
|One of a series of three blast doors protecting NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center. Photo by Eugene Chavez|
The Combined Intelligence Watch serves as the nation's indications and warning center for worldwide threats from space, missile, and strategic air activity, as well as geopolitical unrest that could affect North America and U.S. forces/interests abroad. The Watch gathers intelligence information to assist all the Cheyenne Mountain work centers in correlating and analyzing events to support NORAD and U.S. Space Command decision makers.
The Systems Center ensures continuity of operations throughout the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center by providing communications and computer systems management for over 100 computer systems and 600 communications circuits in support of NORAD and U.S. Space Command missile warning, space control, and air defense missions. This center is also responsible for monitoring all environmental systems maintained within Cheyenne Mountain, to include electrical power generation, water purity, integration of communications and computer systems testing, operator and maintenance technician training, and maintenance of all Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center communications and computer systems. 1
The FAS.org site describes the Cheyenne Mountain facility slightly differently than the above passage, which may reflect changes to the facility in recent years. 2
2. Cheyenne Mountain Complex, fas.org,