For the Raiders, the alligator closest to the boat would be the fighter jets based around the United States. Along the Northeast corridor between Boston and New York, Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod would be the place where F-15 fighters would be dispatched to intercept and shoot down any airliner that had been converted into a guided missile. Washington, D.C., was trickier for the hijackers, with two close Air Force bases: Andrews right outside of town and Langley just to the south, at Hampton, Virginia. As in all sneak attacks, any confusion (such as among air traffic controllers) and any indecision (such as by government officials) would work to the benefit of the Raiders. If there were any official failures to recognize and respond, the attackers would coin them into pure minutes and seconds: time — precious Time. A key for the Raiders was that none of the fighter jets would matter if the tactical plan was executed with perfection. Only mistakes by the Raiders would give the fighters a chance to do their job.
America is defended by trillions of dollars’ worth of arsenal. The most challenging aspect of conducting an air raid against the United States is that, with the help of a secure blanket of radar coverage, the nation is constantly protected by the world’s most advanced system of military fighter jets. These fighters are ready to scramble at a moment’s notice with a variety of lethal missiles capable of taking down any hostile aircraft in short order. Fighter pilots sleep and eat within minutes of their jets and have drilled to be airborne within seconds of an all-out scramble. This constant readiness is paramount in the nation’s defense.
The normal life expectancy for a hostile aircraft anywhere within U.S. borders is less than 30 minutes. But the hard evidence is that on 911, hostile aircraft were able to operate for nearly two hours. It should be disturbing to any American taxpayer that a full inquiry into this failure has yet to be accomplished.
If the President of the United States is still breathing, he and only he is authorized to convert a fighter jet scramble to a shootdown of threatening aircraft, the order going, via a strict protocol, to the Secretary of Defense to the Combatant Commander to the fighter pilots. In the world of commercial aviation alone, we have progressed to a point of nearly perfect, nearly instant communication. Communications among the FAA, White House and U.S. military are even better. In the real world of the year 2001, the protocol for a shootdown order to go through the chain of command would be expected to require less than a minute.
But if the protocol is never initiated, then the trillions of dollars in weaponry are worthless. No fighter pilot is going to be shooting down any airplane, especially a commercial airliner in domestic air space, without shoot down orders.