the heat of the moment, all
suggestions were considered,
but no decision was made to
employ unarmed fighters as
-- Colonel Robert Marr
Friday, August 30, 2002
Planes Considered on 9-11
By ROBERT BURNS ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON -- Moments
after the Sept. 11 attacks, a U.S. air
defense commander considered sending
pilots in unarmed Air Force fighter jets
on suicide missions to ram any other
No such missions were ordered, nor did
the commander, Air Force Col. Robert
Marr Jr., ask his superiors in the
North American Aerospace Defense Command
for authority to issue such orders.
"It was a thought that went through his
mind," said Marr's spokeswoman, Lt.
Col. Kacey Blaney.
Marr said Friday the idea of ramming
any additional hijacked airliners --
beyond the three that hit the World Trade
Center and Pentagon and the one that
crashed in Pennsylvania -- came up as he
and aides huddled in their command center
to consider the unprecedented crisis that
that moment, it was unclear how many
hijackings would occur, and Marr knew he
had only four armed fighter jets available
in his area of responsibility, called the
Northeast Air Defense Sector, stretching
from Minnesota to Maine to Virginia.
"In the heat of the moment, all
suggestions were considered, but no
decision was made to employ unarmed
fighters" as battering rams, Marr said in
a statement provided by Blaney.
The fact that the United States had
only a small number of armed fighter jets
on air defense duty on Sept. 11 reflects
that in the aftermath of the Cold War,
aerial attacks were considered a minimal
threat. Also, the U.S. military never
before had the mission of defending
against domestic aerial attack.
For months after Sept. 11, combat air
patrols were flown continuously over
Washington and New York. Such patrols are
now periodic, and fighter jets are on
short-notice alert at bases across the
Marr first disclosed that he had
considered this last-ditch tactic in an
interview with the British Broadcasting
Corp., which is preparing to air a
documentary on the events of Sept. 11.
In his statement Friday, Marr said it
was his responsibility to consider even
the most extreme measures.
"An airman asked to make the ultimate
sacrifice in defense of his country is no
more or less than the soldier asked to
storm the beaches at Normandy," he
Unsure how many attacks might follow
those on the World Trade Center and the
Pentagon, Marr diverted unarmed Michigan
Air National Guard fighter jets that
happened to be flying a training mission
in northern Michigan at the time of the
first attack, but they were released after
the fourth hijacked plane went down in
"There was a push to get everything
available in the air," to defend the skies
after the attacks began, said Maj.
Barry Venable, spokesman for the North
American Aerospace Defense Command, the
parent unit of Marr's command.
Blaney said Marr and others who huddled
in his command center in Rome, N.Y., that
morning searched for ideas, realizing that
unarmed fighter jets could be used in a
variety of roles -- as extra "eyes and
ears," possibly even as battering
"All of this was considered: How can we
possibly use them?" Blaney said. "All good
commanders are called on to think outside
the box, and this probably would have been
outside the box."
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