Tags: Tight | Rules | Govern | Shoot-down | Policy

Tight Rules Govern Shoot-down Policy

Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM

"Don't get the impression anyone is flying around out there with a loose trigger finger," said Shelton.

"They [the pilots] are bright, they are dedicated, and they are very, very good," he said.

"They're the best in the world. The last thing in the world that one of them wants to do is engage a commercial aircraft."

Shelton said he was more concerned in the other direction, that the timeline on a hijacking might be so tight - as it was Sept. 11 when hijacked commercial flight crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon - that fighter pilots would not be able to respond in time.

On Sept. 11, two fighters were scrambled in Massachusetts to intercept the first hijacked airliner that hit the World Trade Center, but they were still on the ground at the time of impact. They were still en route when the second aircraft hit. Fighters scrambled in southern Virginia were three minutes from the Pentagon when a third plane crashed into that building, and they were about 100 miles from the site of the Pennsylvania crash.

"My concern ... is exactly the opposite, that we will in fact, because of wanting to make very, very sure" that the plane is in distress, said Shelton.

"I'd be concerned the other way. ... All of these [Air Force] pilots that fly these aircraft were sworn to uphold and protect the great citizens of this nation, and it's not in their makeup to want to go out and shoot at anything that could possibly hurt one of our own civilians."

Rumsfeld said the rules of engagement require the pilot to get permission to shoot down an aircraft from the commander-in-chief of North American Defense Command or two designated lower generals, who if time permits would elevate the question to the defense secretary, who in turn would go to the president.

"The president, the secretary of Defense and the combatant commanders are never more than a minute or two away from a secure phone. And it is a process that works," Rumsfeld said. "Very, very senior people are able to address a matter in real time and ask the right questions and make the right judgments.

"There are times when the situation is sufficiently immediate that the authority is delegated below the CINC (the military's regional commanders in chief) for periods of time, but always, in a case like this, always with the understanding that if time permits, it would be immediately brought up to the CINC, and then to me, and if time still permits, for me to go to the president," he said.

Rumsfeld suggested the rules of engagement provide sufficient fail-safe procedures to be sure a hijacked plane would not be shot down if the passengers are trying to take it back.

The rules of engagement Rumsfeld and Shelton crafted are "appropriate to a situation where the military does not have to defend themselves. Therefore, it does not have to be delegated down very far. It can be kept quite close to a very senior level," he said.

For fighters planes to be in place to make such a call almost requires that they be flying constant combat air patrols; none were close enough on Sept. 11 to carry out their orders to shoot down errant aircraft.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Don't get the impression anyone is flying around out there with a loose trigger finger, said Shelton. They [the pilots] are bright, they are dedicated, and they are very, very good, he said. They're the best in the world. The last thing in the world that one of them...
Tight,Rules,Govern,Shoot-down,Policy
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2001-00-28
Friday, 28 September 2001 12:00 AM
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