NORAD's Fighter Escort for Santa: Another Example of Wasteful Government Spending

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 5 2013 1:02 PM

NORAD's Fighter Escort for Santa: Another Example of Wasteful Government Spending

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Santa has his own anti-weapons systems.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Most of the year, NORAD—the North American Aerospace Defense Command—watches the skies for incoming nukes. But every Christmas Eve since 1955, it’s switched gears and tracked Santa instead, giving kids updates on his progress across the globe. This year, though, there’s a twist: Rather than simply watching Santa, NORAD has also provided him with a USAF fighter escort.

Predictably, this angered some bleeding-heart types, who claimed NORAD was using Christmas to aim recruiting messages at kids. Well, maybe that’s true, but there’s something even worse about this program: Santa doesn't need an armed escort. The jolly old elf is fully capable of defending himself against attack, making this unnecessary expenditure yet another example of government waste.

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First of all, NORAD needs to establish why Mr. Kringle warrants government protection. Has U.S. intelligence uncovered a credible threat against Santa Claus? If so, the chatter must’ve been dramatic to prompt such drastic action—despite being a high-value target, Santa has no known enemies. On the other hand, perhaps NORAD is taking precautions in light of China’s new air-defense zone, worrying that Santa may overfly the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and cause an international incident. They needn’t be concerned, however—Santa has countermeasures Lockheed Martin only dreams about.

Santa's primary defense against air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles is speed. One popular estimate posits that Santa travels 650 miles per second, more than Mach 3,000 in ideal conditions. By contrast, most air-to-air missiles travel at a pokey Mach 4, and even Russia's S-400 SAM would lag far behind at Mach 12. Target acquisition would be another challenge for attackers, since without an engine or radar, the sleigh doesn't give off any signature that heat-seeking or radar-guided missiles can pick up, and it moves too fast for electro-optical guidance systems to get a digital image.

Missiles are a wash: Can't lock him, can't catch him.

Theoretically a hostile state could down Santa with a traditional WWII-style air defense grid—firing enough AAA into the sky that one shell is bound to hit him. But history debunks this scenario. Santa managed to deliver to British air raid shelters during the Blitz, so he’s not afraid of a little flak. Still, this vulnerability to traditional artillery may explain why the big man steers clear of North Korea.

In fact, the only time Santa appears vulnerable is when he's dismounted. He’s such a soft target during his deliveries that even children have managed to catch him off-guard, and in stand-your-ground states there’s a danger he might be mistakenly shot as a home invader. If the U.S. military is truly worried for Saint Nick’s safety, they should scrap the fighter escort and deploy a team that can secure his LZs against hostile homeowners, lone actors, or extremists with MANPADs. A Marine Corps Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) would be ideal. After all, FAST companies train for this type op, and Santa’s already works with the Marines on Toys for Tots.

Picture it. The team breaches a house via multiple entry points. Santa crashes in the window wearing NVGs. Delivers the package. Eats cookies. Rolls a grenade across the floor—it stops in front of a sleepy beagle and ejects doggie treats. His work done, Santa exfils to the rooftop where the sleigh retrieves him by skyhook.

But it’s not really his style, is it? Santa is minimally invasive, preferring stealth and evasion to confrontation. And with all respect to the U.S. Marine Corps, the old guy doesn't need the help. Don’t let it fool you when he lets kids catch him—Santa is an infiltrator without peer. He's bypassed more security systems than Anonymous and has a better intel network than the NSA. He breaks into military bases on a regular basis, even though they know he’s coming.

We're talking about a guy who slipped into the White House three months after 9/11, planted multiple suspicious packages and left undetected—I think he can handle his personal security. (Though you never know, he may have clearance. That dude's connected way up.)

Given Santa's capabilities, it’s clear a fighter escort serves no tactical purpose. On the contrary, Santa will have to decelerate in order to keep formation, both putting Christmas behind schedule and making the sleigh vulnerable to attack. Add the high cost of coordinating and refueling a round-the-world escort—a mere Super Bowl flyover costs $450,000—and it’s clear the American taxpayer can’t afford empty pageantry.

Given the situation, I’m begging you NORAD: Just stand back and watch the man work. Who knows? You might learn something.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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