‘Vigilant Skies’ – New Step in NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative
Fighter aircraft from Turkish, Polish and Russian air forces together with air traffic controllers successfully completed a live three-day joint NATO-Russia counter-terrorism exercise “Vigilant Skies 2013,” on 26 September. The exercise was the second time that air traffic controllers from the NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative (NRC CAI) have been tested on their real-time capacity to detect and direct the response to a civilian aircraft hijacked by terrorists in the skies over NATO and Russian territory. The purpose of the exercise is to foster cooperation on airspace security, notably in the field of real-time surveillance and air traffic coordination. The NATO-Russia Council decided to create the initiative in 2002 in wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
This year’s scenario involved two separate air terrorism incidents involving the hijacking of civilian aircraft in Turkish, Russian and Polish airspace by terrorists on board the planes. All incidents were successfully resolved after NATO and Russian air traffic controllers coordinated Allied and Russian military authorities to scramble fighter jets to escort the aircraft to safe landings.
The aim of the CAI programme is to operate and further develop a capability for reciprocal air traffic information exchange and coordination of air security incidents which pose a terrorist threat. The current network already offers increased information sharing and communication ensuring rapid, joint responses to terrorist threats. The current CAI network consists of four air traffic control units in NATO nations and four in the Russian Federation interconnected through CAI coordination centres located in Warsaw and Moscow. The aim of the NATO-Russia Council is to make the CAI network operational on a permanent basis to improve air safety for the thousands of passengers that transit through NATO and Russian airspace every day. Participation in the programme is also open to partner nations.