OVER ALASKA (AP) – Flying at 34,000 feet (10,300 meters) over the Bering Strait, the Russian pilots had a singular focus: making sure they smoothly received the hand-off of a “hijacked” jetliner from their U.S.-Canadian counterparts.
Up here, there were no thoughts about strained Russia-U.S. relations over U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, whom Russia granted asylum, or President Barack Obama s recent canceling of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The training exercise was to make sure the forces could find, track and escort a hijacked aircraft over international borders.
NORAD is a bi-national command of Canada and the U.S. Its director of operations, Canadian Major Gen. Andre Vien, said Thursday there were never any discussions about canceling the exercise, known as Vigilant Eagle.
It s been held five times since 2003. But the exercises on Tuesday and Wednesday were the first since U.S.-Russian relations became strained because of Snowden, Syria, human rights and other issues.
“I see no problems,” said Vien s counterpart, Gen. Major Dmitry Gomenkov, commander of the Aerospace Defense Brigade for eastern Russia.
Col. Patrick Carpentier, the deputy commander of NORAD s Alaska Region, was an observer on the “hijacked plane” and said the exercise is about cooperation.