It’s been an especially demanding year for the U.S. military air defenses, which have spent 2023 shooting down a Chinese spy balloon, UFOs, and Houthi missiles and drones – all while troops continue to fight ISIS and fend off attacks in Iraq and Syria, and the U.S. military as a whole watches warily as China increases the size of its navy and nuclear stockpile.

The demands on the U.S. military keep growing, as evidenced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s recent announcement that Operation Prosperity Guardian had been established to protect freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, the defense industrial base continues to take its sweet time in ramping up production of weapons that the Defense Department and allies desperately need now, including 155mm artillery shells and SM-6 missiles.

With its global commitments continuing to increase and industry moving at the speed of a Basset Hound, one key question arises this holiday season: Does the U.S. military have the people and resources to provide Santa Claus with the support he needs this Christmas?

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This is the type of question that the rest of the “media” may ignore, but it’s what we at the Task & Purpose News Team™ live for.

When asked last week for a breakdown of the personnel and assets who would be escorting Santa this year, Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said that North American Aerospace Defense Command would have more information on the matter.

“I can assure you that we will ensure that Santa gets wherever he needs to go safely and securely,” Ryder said at a Dec. 14 Pentagon news conference.

NORAD tracks Santa
FILE: Airmen train for Santa tracking operations on Dec. 16, 2022 at the Eastern Air Defense Sector headquarters in Rome, N.Y. (Master Sgt. Kim Dagata/New York National Guard)

Marine Col. Christian Devine, Department of Defense spokesperson, added on Wednesday that NORAD is up to the challenge of making sure nothing prevents Santa from coming down your chimney this year.

“The Department has every confidence that our NORAD servicemembers on the Christmas Eve watch will ensure Santa has clear and uninterrupted airspace for this important mission,” Devine told Task & Purpose. “However, we just kindly ask Santa (or any onboard elves) NOT operate any aerial toys (to include large balloons) while in-flight over the continental United States.”

You laugh, but the F-22 Raptor is earning a reputation as this century’s balloon buster.

Devine’s confidence was echoed by NORAD, which issued a statement on Wednesday saying that when it comes to protecting Santa as he makes his Christmas run, they got this.

“NORAD has all the assets it requires to track Santa this year,” the command’s statement says. “NORAD uses three systems to track Santa’s location: radars including the North Warning System, satellites, and NORAD military aircraft. These systems provide NORAD with a continuous picture of Santa’s whereabouts both in North America and abroad.”


“This all-domain approach provides NORAD with a continuous picture of Santa’s whereabouts,” NORAD continued, “So we can track him effectively during his mission, as we keep North America safe throughout the year.”

NORAD has tracked Santa for nearly 70 years. While the U.S. military’s support for Santa has mostly been a good news story, in 2013 a brief controversy erupted when the Boston Globe reported that NORAD had released a video showing the jolly old elf being escorted by armed jet fighters that were “bristling with missiles.” (NORAD said the aircraft were carrying fuel tanks, not weapons.)

But if you think that Santa doesn’t need protection from armed U.S. fighter jets, check out this video from a few years back showing the Czech military blasting Santa out of the sky.

Retired Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson, who led NORAD and U.S. Northern Command from 2016 to 2018, recalled the joy of watching children call into NORAD to learn Santa’s exact position. 

“The pleasure on the other end, listening to children and parents talk was just amazing,” Robinson told Task & Purpose. “I still talk about it all the time. In fact, just the other day, I said: Who has grandchildren? NORAD tracks Santa!”

Robinson also praised the Colorado Springs community for supporting NORAD throughout the day as Santa is flying around the world by donating food and time. She noted that the Santa tracking mission begins very early in the morning each holiday, and lasts until Santa finishes his yearly run, 

She also underscored the importance of the mission that the U.S. and Canadian service members assigned to NORAD perform each Christmas as Santa travels through North American airspace.

“I think it is something that is wonderful for families at this time of year,” Robinson said. “It’s wonderful for Colorado Springs and everything that they do there, and it’s wonderful for NORAD.”

The U.S. military’s mission to support Santa does not end when he leaves North American airspace. Once the jolly old elf makes it across the Atlantic, he will link up with U.S. Air Forces in Europe, or USAFE. 

“As Santa travels throughout Europe on Christmas night, it is crucial the U.S. Air Force works alongside all 31 NATO member nations to ensure he makes it across the airspace safely,” USAFE said in a statement. “Despite an increased operations tempo due to growing commitments across the world, we always prioritize maintaining air superiority so Santa can effectively deliver all Christmas gifts on time.”

So, even though the U.S. military has a lot on its plate right now, Santa should be safe this year thanks to service members in the air, on the ground, and good Ol’-fashioned American whoop-ass in the form of AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, which have an estimated 270 aircraft kills since they first entered service in 1956 – so far.

It’s worth noting that one component of the Defense Department that won’t be tracking Santa this year is the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, or AARO, which analyzes reported sightings of Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, formerly known as UFOs 

“The Department of Defense and the North American Aerospace Defense Command have been calibrating their sensors to track Santa for over 65 years,” said Defense Department spokeswoman Sue Gough. “As Santa is not ‘unidentified,’ he is not a UAP and does not fall under AARO’s purview. I refer you to NORAD and for this year’s exciting tracking of Santa as he delivers presents and joy around the world.”

UPDATE: 12/21/2023; this story was updated with a statement from U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

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