Thursday, September 28, 2006

A mission lost; a mission gained

Originally uploaded by bleve_349.
Not that there are winners and losers (but there are), but the Coast Guard won a recent interagency battle. Actually, the Coast Guard won a while back, but the ramifications didn't take place until this week. The Coast Guard officially assumed responsibility for air intercept operations in the nation's capital from U.S. Customs and Border Protection... if I remember correctly, the CBP had trouble getting their Hawks in the air in time. I guess there's something to be said about the Coast Guard's ability to keep aircraft ready to go at a moment's notice.

From the Navy Times:
The Coast Guard began flying its blaze orange HH-65C Dolphin helicopters over the nation’s capital this week, assuming low-altitude aviation interception operations for North American Aerospace Defense Command.

The Coast Guard helos replace black H-60 helicopters operated by Customs and Border Protection. They are responsible for keeping unauthorized aircraft from flying into off-limits airspace around Washington.

The service has been gearing up for the mission for nearly a year. In November 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed a directive transferring the duties to the Coast Guard from CPB, because the Coast Guard, as a military service, falls within NORAD’s chain of command.

“The Coast Guard brings some unique authorities to the national capital region. It is part and parcel of the military command and control structure, as well as being dual-hatted as a law-enforcement body,” explained Lt. Col. Don Arias, spokesman for the 1st Air Force, the command responsible for air security and defense of the United States, on Wednesday.

The Coast Guard pilots are trained in rotary wing air intercept, RWAI, operations for the mission. Their job is to help identify targets and intercept them. Once an aircraft has strayed into a restricted area, the Coast Guardsmen approach it and position their helicopter on the aircraft’s left side. They then are to transmit information about the aircraft to NORAD and the FAA to determine it is a possible threat.

Coast Guard pilots attempt to communicate with target aircraft via radio and visual signals. If communication is established, the pilots would direct the aircraft out of the restricted area. If the aircraft does not respond, it could be subject to armed intervention by NORAD-controlled aircraft, according to the service.
At least we're using Dolphins and not the Stingray. I guess it's that SAR dog in me: helicopters with the Coast Guard stripe are for search and rescue, not playing shoot'em up.

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