Animated US fighters to escort Santa through disputed Chinese airspace Christmas eve

Every Christmas since 1955, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) has tracked Santa as he circumnavigates the globe.

This year, however, due to increasingly disturbing saber-rattling from China, Santa looks like he will have some company on his Christmas eve ride: a massive, fully-armed, animated US fighter jet escort.

santa-norad-two

US Air Force artist rendition.

(Google will also be tracking Santa this year, but since everyone knows the NSA already bugs Google, you’re already covered by just sticking with NORAD.)

On November 23rd, China established an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) extending over much of the East China Sea.  International concern immediately turned to the safety of an imminent trip to the region by – not Joe Biden – but Santa Claus.

The establishment of the air defense zone means China is requiring all aircraft that enter the zone, which covers the Diaoyu/Senhaku islands — China, Japan and Taiwan all claim sovereignty over the islands — to provide identification and flight plans, as well as maintain communication with Chinese authorities.

China’s assertion of authority in establishing an ADIZ has antagonized Japan, and given the United States, Australia and South Korea cause for concern, as relative diplomatic progress was seen to have been made in the region in recent months. The US strongly, and publicly, objected to China’s move.

While China has defended the move as both a necessary early-warning system and a replication of previous zones established by the United States and Japan elsewhere, the timing of the move has led the other countries involved to question China’s commitment to peace in the region.

While both the United States and Japan have, thus far, ignored the zone, flying planes through it on a daily basis since the announcement, it appears that the US military has found a way to actively respond in a slight, yet quintessentially American fashion.

They’re arming Santa to the teeth.

The Air Force escort for Mr. Claus will look something like this, according to a recently released Pentagon video:

NORAD gearing up to help Santa troll China’s ADIZ on Christmas eve

In light of the United States’ refusal to recognize the Chinese air defense zone, a NORAD spokesperson indicated that Santa’s flight plan likely would not respect the ADIZ, telling Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski:

“We don’t know Santa’s route, only Santa knows that, but I’m guessing Santa probably has clearance to go everywhere.”

Buzzfeed also quotes Caitlyn Hayden, a national security spokesperson at the White House, who had this to say:

I’m not empowered to speak for Mr. Claus, nor would his sleigh be subject to the same regulations as U.S. civilian airliners. As a general matter, the United States does not recognize the newly announced ADIZ, which appears to be a provocative attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, a highly sensitive area, and thus raises regional tensions and increases the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents.

John has confirmed that the White House quote is in fact real (I’m not making this up).

Counterintuitive as it may seem, in terms of soft power, using Santa to publicly ridicule the ADIZ may actually make some modicum of sense.

Flexing our muscles by flatly ignoring China’s warnings, and continuing to fly planes through the area without giving deference to Chinese authorities, is one thing. But China is also acutely sensitive about its image in the international sphere. By effectively double-daring China to mess with Santa, we show the Chinese that we aren’t going to take their new claim in the East China Sea seriously, and we highlight how off-base and absurd their move is, especially if they’re at all serious about maintaining stability in the region.

NORAD has taken some heat over the animated addition, which it must have anticipated, as practically the only visitors NoradSanta.org will get on Christmas eve are going to be kids and parents (well, okay, and drunk college students). And a lot of kids and parents at that: Last year, the NoradSanta reached 22 million visitors, and received tens of thousands of phone calls from kids and parents seeking updates on where Santa was in real time.

More on the concerned parents from the LA Times:

Santa means presents, good times and “everything else that is positive about Christmas,” Allen Kanner, a child and family psychologist, told the Boston Globe. The co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood said the Pentagon has gone too far.

The associate director of the campaign, Josh Golin, goes a step further. He told CNN that it was “a back-door way to market” the military to kids. The Pentagon took this holiday tradition and added “violence and militarism,” he said.

And I have my own gripe.  Does the jet really have to be bigger than Santa and all of the reindeer combined?


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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