Peterson Air Force Base (US): The US and Russia, which have more bluster than cooperation in their often-contentious history, will have their jet fighters take turns pursuing a civilian plane across the Pacific next week in a first-of-its-kind exercise to test their response to a
potential international hijacking.
Aircraft and officers from Russia and the North American Aerospace Defence Command will track the civilian plane, an executive-style jet that will play the role of a hijacked civilian airliner.
The goal is to test how well the two forces can hand off responsibility for the "hijacked" plane.
Also participating in operation Vigilant Eagle are both countries` civil air traffic control agencies.
Officials on both sides of the trust-building military exercise chose a mutual, modern-day interest -- the fight against terror -- to create an incident that could entangle the two countries.
"We try to anticipate any potential areas in which it might be necessary for us to launch fighter jets," said Maj Michael S Humphreys, a NORAD spokesman. A terrorist hijacking, he said, "is every bit as probable as any other" scenario.
Moscow faces terrorist attacks by radicals from restive Russian provinces. In March, suicide bombers killed 40 on a Moscow subway, and an explosion in November 2009 derailed a Moscow-bound train, killing 26. More recently, on July 29, a man seized a plane with 105 passengers and crew at a Moscow airport.
The US is still wrestling with terrorist threats to airplanes and subways nearly nine years after the September 11, 2001 hijackings. A Nigerian man is accused of trying to blow up a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day. Authorities thwarted an alleged plot to carry out three suicide bombings on New York City subways in September 2009.
It`s unlikely that Vigilant Eagle was devised to deal with a specific threat, said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, which tracks military and homeland security news.
The purpose is more likely a combination of confidence-building and rooting out any communication and jurisdictional problems before they crop up in a real emergency, he said.