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Radar points to Air Force presence

A mobile radar unit was recently set up on the Seaplane Base. - Ken George
A mobile radar unit was recently set up on the Seaplane Base.
— image credit: Ken George

U.S. Air Force personnel in conjunction with other branches of the U.S. military are likely right here in Oak Harbor, carrying out the combat air patrol mission of North American Air Defense Command, said a NORAD spokeswoman.

NORAD is heading up the patrols of U.S. skies as part of homeland defense, in response to the threat of terrorism that began with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

“Basically, what I can tell you is that we have all kinds of assets that are supporting the combat air patrol mission. ... I won’t be able to get into specific details because of operational security ... we’re flying continuous combat air patrols over Washington, D.C. and New York and random patrols around the rest of the country,” said Capt. Kirstin Reimann, a public affairs officer for NORAD.

The most visible evidence of the NORAD mission is radar apparatus set up at the site of the two preserved Victory Homes on the Seaplane Base. The site of the 200-unit military housing complex has been fenced off since the demolition of 198 of the World War II-era homes. New housing will be built in its place, but two of the homes were preserved as historical sites.

The fenced-off area is under tight security. Whidbey News-Times photo editor Ken George was detained by Air Force security police for taking photos of the radar apparatus from outside the fence line. He was released after questioning.

“We’ve positioned some radar around the country to provide us a better radar picture of the air space,” said Army Maj. Barry Venable, a NORAD spokesman.

Refusing to speak in relation to the specific equipment in Oak Harbor, Venable said that the radar used is “generally characterized as air defense radar” to scan for airplanes flying into the range of that radar. Venable would not say the range of the radar.

Asked about the placement of the radar equipment at the two preserved Victory Homes, Venable said that most of the mobile radar units have a crew and “some sort of transmission facility.” The information gathered by the radar is communicated to NORAD.

While NORAD is using troops with such radar capability around the nation, the primary responsibility for monitoring continental U.S. airspace still lies with the Federal Aviation Administration, Venable said. If the FAA spots anything out of the ordinary, it would call in NORAD for assistance.

The combat air patrol forces under NORAD command have about 100 military fighter jets and various radar equipment stationed at 26 locations across the U.S., Venable said. The aircraft are used in a combination of air patrols with other aircraft ready to “scramble,” or take off within a few minutes of receiving orders to do so.

Neither Venable or Reimann would say whether or not NORAD-commanded air crews and aircraft are currently based at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

“We don’t discuss our operations nor the units that support our operations,” Venable said, “so that the bad guys can’t piece together” where such patrols and missions are taking place.

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