Defense patrols are thinner after breakup of jet forced down 450 others
FRESNO, Calif. - The grounding of hundreds of F-15s because of dangerous structural defects is straining the nation's air defense network, forcing some states to rely on their neighbors' fighter jets for protection, and Alaska to depend on the Canadian military.
The F-15 is the sole fighter at many of the 16 or so "alert" sites around the country, where planes and pilots stand ready to take off at a moment's notice to intercept hijacked airliners, Cessnas that wander into protected airspace, and other threats.
The Air Force grounded about 450 F-15s after one of the fighters began to break apart in the air and crashed Nov. 2 in Missouri. An Air Force investigation found "possible fleet-wide airworthiness problems" because of defects in the metal rails that hold the fuselage together. It is not clear when the F-15s will be allowed to fly again.
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Apparently they couldn't say this a little more than six years ago before the problem arose.
'Thinner than we would like'
"When you're filling in, obviously it's going to cause some strain," said Mike Strickler, a spokesman with North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which is operated by the U.S. and Canada. "You're spreading resources a little thinner than we would like."
But air defenses have not been compromised, Strickler said. "We can be anywhere at any time," he said.