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Secretary of Defense William Cohen issues a comprehensive assessment of America’s defense requirements, called the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This is a six-month analysis of the “threats, risks and opportunities for US national security,” and reviews all aspects of the US defense strategy. (US Department of Defense 5/19/1997) Among other things, the 1997 QDR outlines the conversion of six continental air defense squadrons to general purpose, training or other missions. It calls for there being just four “alert” air defense sites around the US: at Otis, Massachusetts; Homestead, Florida; Riverside, California; and Portland, Oregon. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; Filson 2003, pp. 348) Major General Larry Arnold, who is commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region on 9/11, later says: “The QDR didn’t make any sense at all. [T]here was a fight just to maintain the number of alert sites that we had. We felt we could operate fairly reasonably with about ten sites and thought eight was the absolute highest risk we could take.” NORAD Commander in Chief General Howell M. Estes III has written to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a minimum of seven alert sites are needed to maintain America’s air sovereignty. In the end, three extra alert sites are added to the four suggested in the QDR. These are at Hampton, Virginia; Panama City, Florida; and Ellington, Texas. Larry Arnold later says, “I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with seven [alert sites] because there are great large distances between the alert sites.” (Filson 2003, pp. 36) Other bases will lose their NORAD air defense functions over the next year, including those in Fresno, California; Fargo, North Dakota; Duluth, Minnesota; Burlington, Vermont; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Great Falls, Montana. (US Department of Defense 5/1997) Of these closed bases, the most critical loss on 9/11 will be the Atlantic City, New Jersey base, located about halfway between New York City and Washington. Boston air traffic control, apparently unaware the base has lost its air defense function will try and fail to contact the base shortly after learning about the first hijacking of the morning, Flight 11 (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
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