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Pentagon eyes cuts in air patrols over U.S.

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is considering a number of options to scale back combat air patrols that have been under way over the United States since the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Sources said they link this review to a severe drain on U.S. Air Force personnel and aircraft, but they emphasize no decisions have been made.

One option might be to cut back on the ongoing air patrols and place more planes on alert status in which they remain on the ground ready to take off. Such a move could prove highly sensitive, especially if patrols over New York and Washington are cut back.

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Military officials said they believe it is not realistic to keep planes in the air all the time.

Since September 11, the military has conducted 13,000 missions over the United States, including fighter patrols, refueling missions and radar surveillance. Around-the-clock patrols continue to be conducted over New York and Washington.

Random patrols are conducted over half a dozen other cities, usually when there is a large event such as a football game. And in 30 major metropolitan areas, fighter aircraft are kept on "strip alert" -- on the ground at strategic airstrips ready to fly within 15 minutes.

Some 11,000 Air Force personnel and more than 250 aircraft are involved in the mission. Since September 11, military aircraft --- commanded by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) -- have responded 207 times to alerts.

On 92 occasions, NORAD scrambled jets from the ground; it diverted jets already in the air 115 other times.

Under procedures established with the Federal Aviation Administration, a commercial pilot instantly can notify the FAA and NORAD if there is a problem in the skies. There could also be a response if radar picks up any diversion from a stated flight path or otherwise detects unidentified aircraft.



 
 
 
 



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