A new military unit trained and equipped for very short notice response to a large scale chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear attack anywhere in the U.S. is being placed on high alert during next month's presidential inauguration. The action is a precaution and is not in response to a specific threat or new intelligence, said Air Force Gen. Victor “Gene” Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command.
The unit was created when it was recognized after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that the military lacked a standing ability to respond to WMD attack. Known as the CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF, the active duty unit is intended to deploy to a WMD “hot-zone” and provide a more robust response to back-up state and local level chemical and biological response teams, National Guard units and medical personnel, Renuart said, speaking to Washington based defense reporters.
Able to self-sustain in a contaminated environment for an extended period of time, the unit is made up of some 4,700 personnel and is comprised of three different task forces. The first, site survey teams that assess the type of chemical or biological agent used or the spread of radiation in event of a nuclear attack, they can also perform decontamination of any survivors, urban search and rescue and casualty medevac; second, a medical unit able to provide care for large numbers of casualties; and third, a logistics and support unit.
Renuart said North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, which he also heads up, will increase its air defense patrols over Washington, D.C. during the inauguration. The military must be prepared to respond to any potential threat for an event that is “this visible, this important and this historic.”
NORTHCOM launches jet fighters every day to intercept and identify aircraft that are entering U.S. air space and not complying with established FAA rules and security guidelines, Renuart said. “In virtually every case it’s a mix of buffoonery, or mechanical failure or just lack of understanding,” of established rules, he said, none of the incidents in recent years have posed an actual threat. “There are a number of aviators out there who have had a chance to see an F-16 up very close, who have been landed at an airfield that wasn’t their planned airfield and were greeted by 30 or 40 of their newest friends in the FBI.”
When an unidentified aircraft violates U.S airspace, a series of steps and procedures are followed to determine whether the aircraft manifests “hostile intent.” A conference call begins with radar operators, pilots and a two-star or above general officer, the designated “assessor,” who is normally the NORAD commander and is on call 24 hours a day. If the aircraft is determined to be hostile, the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security and others are brought into the conversation. If the plane is headed toward a populated area and is determined to be a true threat, then the assessor makes the shoot down recommendation that then must be approved by more senior officials.
“That’s a tough, tough decision to have to make but I think the events of September 11 taught us that we have to have that discussion at a very senior level of government to consider all possibilities,” before allowing a plane to fly into a large city, he said.