FAA Glitch Impacted Military Air Defense

But defense officials say their ability to scramble fighter jets was unaffected.

Nov. 19, 2009— -- Since 9/11, the military's air defense network over the U.S. has had the ability to monitor commercial airline traffic via Federal Aviation Administration radars. So today's F.A.A. computer glitch that caused widespread flight delays across the country, also affected the military's ability to see some of the information from the F.A.A.

But, but military officials tell ABC News, the interruption did not affect its ability to take emergency action, like scrambling fighter jets to intercept aircraft acting in a suspicious manner, what the military calls "tracks of interest."

"At no given time was our ability to execute our air sovereignty mission affected nor our ability to respond to a track of interest within the United States," says Lt. Col. Susan Romano, a spokesperson for CONR. the Continental U.S. division of NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

Romano says that within seconds of the glitch, the F.A.A. notified military authorities that there was an interruption in the military's ability to see some of the flight information on radars.

This is the same 24 hour conference call-like network involved in the incident where the NorthWest passenger jet overshot its intended destination of Minneapolis last month. In that instance, the F.A.A. was criticized for not getting the informing the military in a timely fashion that a plane had overshot its destination.

Within minutes of today's notification Romano says, the CONR operations center and the two air defense sectors that have watch over the entire U. S. had worked out solutions for the four hours that the system was out.

The Eastern Air Defense Sector, based in Rome, N.Y., and the Western Air Defense Sector, based at McChord AFB, in Washington state monitor air traffic for CONR. If they detect tracks of interest their information is used to scramble fighter jets.

Romano concedes that things were made a little tougher by not being able to see the radar information directly, but said, "...there was no specific impact to any area in the continental U.S .that would have prevented us from responding to a track of interest."

Romano adds that while today's outage may have been a minor distraction, anything that impacts the air sovereignty mission is taken very seriously and is considered significant because of the importance of the air defense mission.

A defense official tells ABC News that as a precaution, an AWACS reconnaissance plane that was already airborne on a training mission was converted to a real time mission in case the military needed radar coverage for somewhere in the U.S.

The official would not characterize what percentage of the F.A.A.'s radars the military was unable to be seen for the four hours that the glitch affected their system.