Extraordinary security measures are in place for Super Bowl XLVII - especially since the game will be hosted in the New York City/New Jersey area for the first time in it's history.
Good Morning America reported that, "An army of law enforcement and military have been fully deployed to protect this year's big game," including Customs and Border patrol helicopters, NY State police protecting the waters, NYPD, FBI specialized units and SWAT and weapons of mass destruction detection teams. But some of the most sophisticated protection could happen miles above the stadium.
Pilots from the 177th Fighter Wing maneuver their aircraft during an airshow. Fans might be used to seeing the jets zoom over a stadium at the end of the National Anthem, the pilots and aircrew that might actually save lives are on the ground (Credit: DoD).
Pilots and maintainers from the Atlantic City Air National Guard unit, the 177th Fighter Wing, showcased their F-16s Fighting Falcons for the ABC report, explaining that the jets can respond, intercept - and if necessary shoot down - potential aerial threats within mere minutes.
The ABC report got one thing wrong though, they said the New Jersey unit would be the site to respond if something on game day goes wrong. But any one of dozens of Aerospace Control Alert (ACA) units can and likely would respond with this kind of security if a legitimate threat arose for the Superbowl. In fact, 16 Air Force fighter units stand at-the-ready for emergency aerial intercepts across the country.
Two F-16s from the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard fly over the U.S. Capitol during a training mission; 16 Aerospace Control Alert units are positioned to respond to potential aerial threats within mere minutes (Credit: DoD).
As part of the federal government's overall efforts to protect U.S. airspace since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Department of Defense (DOD) performs Operation Noble Eagle, which consists of several missions, including the ACA aerial intercept mission.
These ACA units are "arrayed in a rapid response posture to conduct both air sovereignty and air defense operations against airborne threats," according to a GAO report.
This includes fighter aircraft and trained personnel on alert 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, at 16 alert basing locations across the contiguous United States and one each in Alaska and Hawaii to deter, respond to, and if necessary defeat airborne threats over the United States and Canada. These fighter aircraft and trained personnel can be the last line of multiple layers of the air defense of the United States.
The ACA mission falls under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
"NORAD's primary role is to support the lead agencies and to ensure safety of this event through extensive training, recognized civil aviation procedures and close cooperation with our partners to include FAA, DHS and the State of New Jersey," Lieutenant General William Etter, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region - 1st Air Force commander said.
"We are confident we can help guide or divert unauthorized aircraft out of the flight restricted area and away from MetLife Stadium on game day. We've safely accomplished this mission without incident since the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans," Gen. Etter said.
So while fans might be used to seeing the jets zoom over a stadium at the end of the National Anthem, the pilots and aircrew that might actually save lives are on the ground - standing by to dash into their jets with weapons loaded, ready to chase away the bad guys.
To get a taste of this fast-paced aerial response, check out the ABC video below.
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