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Dc air defense { September 11 2002 }

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Air Defense Is Activated
Weapons Deployed in Region

By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 11, 2002; Page A19

The Pentagon activated a network of air defenses in the Washington area for the first time in decades yesterday, placing live antiaircraft missiles next to launchers that had been moved into place in recent days.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered the positioning of live ammunition with Avenger systems and shoulder-fired Stinger launchers as the Bush administration raised the nation's terrorism alert to its second-highest level. Rumsfeld's decision followed considerable debate among senior defense officials over the practicality of the weapons in guarding the capital and the public alarm a deployment would cause.

"This is not a response to any specific threat, but is a prudent precaution to increase the radar and air defense posture in the national capital region," a Pentagon statement said.

Rumsfeld's decision transformed what had been billed as an exercise to test Army air defense systems into an actual military deployment under Operation Noble Eagle, the name the Pentagon has assigned to air defense activities since the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York a year ago.

Pentagon officials declined for security reasons to give the locations of the air defense systems, which include Sentinel radar for spotting threatening targets as well as Avengers and Stingers for shooting them down. But one Avenger was clearly in view outside the Pentagon.

The ground-based systems, along with about 300 soldiers to operate them, are meant to provide an extra layer of defense, adding to round-the-clock air patrols by F-15 and F-16 fighter jets that resumed last Friday over Washington and New York. The patrols, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks, were scaled back last spring in the absence of a specific air threat and in recognition of the increased protection afforded by tougher airliner and airport security procedures.

The Stinger is a short-range, shoulder-fired supersonic missile that can hit aircraft flying as high as 10,000 feet with a heat-seeking, high-explosive warhead. It has a range of about five miles. Weighing just 35 pounds, it can be used against any aircraft flying at relatively low altitudes, whether jets, helicopters, cruise missiles or unmanned aerial vehicles.

The Avenger is a system that mounts the Stinger atop a rotating turret on a miltary Humvee, the modern equivalent of the World War II Jeep.

The vehicles usually carry eight Stingers. They also have a package of sensors to help them identify targets at night and during cloudy weather.

The Sentinel is a radar and communications system that is used to alert Avenger and Stinger crews. Towed by a specially equipped Humvee, it consists of a battlefield radar, a group of radios, a generator, and some related systems. It has a range of 25 miles.

The deployment recalled the early decades of the Cold War, when Nike guided missile systems ringed dozens of U.S. cities and military installations to knock down Soviet bombers if they ever attacked.

By the late 1960s, there were six such antiaircraft sites ringing Washington. Maryland had five -- in Rockville, Fort Meade, Annapolis, Davidsonville and Waldorf. The sixth was in Lorton.

The Nike system remained in service until the mid-1970s, when arms treaties required removal of most of the sites and Soviet military strategy had shifted to favor long-range missiles over bombers.

This week's exercise, originally dubbed Clear Skies II, was the second in a series that began in July to practice how ground-based systems might be deployed in the Washington area.

But some military officials questioned the feasibility of deploying the short-range systems around Washington, noting that the effective range and reaction time of the weapons made it unlikely they would actually be used.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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