Four layers of aircraft in the sky including armed F-16 jets will be part of the largest security operation in the history of Super Bowl when it kicks off this Sunday.
Black Hawk helicopters and jet fighters will be circling above the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to force down any aircraft that enters the 30 nautical mile no-fly zone.
Helicopters equipped with infrared cameras will be in the air and there will be tens of thousands of police and FBI agents on the ground.
According to the event organizers they want the streets around the stadium to be the ‘most secure area in the world’ on the day of the Super Bowl.
Due to the risk of a terrorist attack, the Department of Homeland Security has given the Super Bowl a Level 1 ‘special event assessment rating’, the highest security designation available.
This year the FBI is on particular alert because of the number of terrorism cases in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has been home to the third highest number of terror prosecutions in the U.S. since 9/11, NBC News reports. The other two are New York and Washington, D.C – larger metropolitan areas.
In total 12 Twin Cities residents have been charged with providing support to ISIS and in the past nine years 20 people have been arrested for alleged support of the Somali terror group al Shabab.
Al Shabaab made a recruitment video called Minnesota’s Martyrs: The Path to Paradise. It featured Minneapolis man Troy Kastigar, who died in 2009, describing fighting with ISIS rebels in Syria as ‘like Disneyland’.
Thirteen locals died fighting for al Shabab and ISIS between 2011 and 2014, according to U.S intelligence officials.
Among the dead were Douglas McArthur McCain, 33, who went to high school in Minneapolis with Kastigar, and a Minneapolis father-of-nine, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, 29, died while fighting Free Syrian Army rebels in Syria with the Islamic State in 2014.
Joe Rivers, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI in Minneapolis, said a threat assessment for the game has included analyzing attacks around the world.
He cited the May bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, the shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and the vehicle attack on a New York City bike path, both of which were in October last year.
Rivers said the FBI was very aware that dozens of young men travel to Somalia or Syria to join extremist groups over the past decade, and there is a large Somali population in Minneapolis.
There also has been a stabbing attack at a central Minnesota mall and a more recent bombing of a local mosque.
Rivers said: ‘It’s impossible for us to ignore the historical cases that we’ve had here and the type of threats…that we’ve addressed’.
Whilst there is currently no credible threat to the Super Bowl, the biggest danger are low tech-threats like somebody driving a car into a crowd of people.
Rivers said: ‘Not to alarm anyone, but it’s not hard to come by weapons in this country and with where our venues are located and things like that, there’s no way we can possibly secure every single floor of every single building that can see a venue or can overlook a crowd, so those are concerns, yes’.
Super Bowl LII will kick off at 6.30pm Eastern on Sunday but the security planning for the event began two years ago – more than two Super Bowls back.
The event requires a staggering level of coordination between 60 police departments across Minnesota and 40 federal agencies including Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI.
The Minnesota National Guard has been activated and a 9ft high chain link and concrete fence has been erected around the U.S. Bank Stadium.
Dozens of cities are sending cops to help the 900 officers in the Minneapolis Police force who are unable to cope on their own with the estimated one million people who will be in the city in the days before the game.
The layers of security start on the ground where visitors to the game can expect to see increased police patrols, officers in tactical gear, bomb-sniffing dogs and 10,000 volunteers who are being trained to spot suspicious activity.
Streets have been closed, parking garages will be shut and homeless people are likely going to be moved to shelters – but there will be even more high tech measures out of sight.
The FBI, which will reportedly have its own transmitting station inside the stadium, will be using license plate readers to track suspicious vehicles.
FBI agents will be tracking social media for threats, hundreds of temporary CCTV cameras will be installed and
In case a terrorist attack should happen, organizers are planning a response ‘similar to that used in airplane crashes’, according to minutes of committee meetings.
The greater Minneapolis area is home to about 50,000 people with Somali heritage, those born in the United States as well as immigrants and refugees from the East African country.
Somalia and its capital, Mogadishu, have endured decades of political instability and more recently militant attacks from Al-Shabaab. The country has also been targeted by Trump’s travel ban, which blocks entry into the United States of most people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
Although more than 20 Somali-Americans have left Minnesota to join extremist groups overseas, local leaders say this is a small number that defames a friendly and hard-working people.
‘Our community has been labeled as a national security threat. We live in constant apprehension,’ said Kamal Hassan, who founded Somali Human Rights coalition in Minneapolis after fleeing his homeland. ‘Every day you hear social media threats against our community.’
CBP has installed giant X-ray machines in trucks at the U.S. Bank Stadium, which seats 60,000 people, and they are scanning every piece of equipment and food which is going in.
CBP is also running an anti-counterfeiting operation to stop fake tickets and merchandise from being sold and already $100,000 of gear has been seized, officials told DailyMail.com.
The most fearsome ring of security will be in the sky where the ‘wedding cake’ of four layers of security will be deployed at all times to enforce a no-fly zone over the stadium.
Hovering around 1,500ft off the ground will be two AS350 Astar helicopter with a crew of a pilot and a camera operator.
The Astar has a top speed of 156mph, a range of 414 miles and can stay in the air for three hours before it needs to refuel.
The helicopter is armed with a FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) camera which used infrared technology to see through some objects.
It allows the crew on board to spot people who are trying to hide from police officers on the ground in bushes, for example.
A FLIR camera was used by a Massachusetts State Police helicopter to find Boston bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev hiding in a boat in a residential garden in 2013 and guided officers to arrest him.
Air and Marine Operations spokesman Kris Groan said: ‘The main mission of the Astar is transmitting its images in real time to law enforcement agencies on the ground.
‘With the FLIR We’re able to see pretty much when you’re looking at a news chopper when they’re broadcasting a police chase – it is an HD cameras stream.
‘It can be used for something as simple as fans that are congesting at a spot so we can move law enforcement closer to them.
‘If there’s a disturbance and we need to go over something we’re able to figure out what’s going on because we can see more from the air what’s taking place.
‘Another example would be if there is an accident and we need to get an emergency vehicle we can reroute it with the help of the Astar crew’.
Above the Astars are two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters which have a maximum speed of 172mph and a range of 690 miles.
They can last four and a half hours in the air before they need to refuel – two will be in the air at all times during the Super Bowl and one will be on the ground.
The Black Hawks have enough space inside to carry an armed tactical team to an area if they need to get there fast.
Grogan said that the main job of Black Hawks will be to intercept ‘low and slow’ aircraft that go into the no fly zone about the Super Bowl such as Cessna light aircraft.
He said: ‘Typically they would chase that aircraft, pull up next to it and ask them to change over to particular radio frequency and ask them do you know you’re in a restricted flight zone
‘Nine times out of ten they didn’t realise. If need be we will tell them they need to land and we follow them down and have a conversation with them’.
On board the Black Hawk is a minimum crew of four, which is two pilots and two air interdiction agents – the Air and Marine Operation term for an agent.
Above the Black Hawks are Department of Defence intercept aircraft, typically an F-16 jet.
Major Andrew Scott, spokesman for the 601st Air and Space Operations Center, said that NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), would be coordinating the jets.
NORAD normally monitors North America for air threats but during the Super Bowl it would assume that responsibility too.
Major Scott confirmed that the F-16 will be armed – usually it is equipped with two AIM-9, two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles – to shoot down aircraft if needed.
The final layer above the F-16 will be a refueling platform so that they do not have to land and can stay in the area at all times.
Typically this is a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker which has been the military’s main refueling aircraft for 50 years.
The KC-135 can carry 200,000lbs of fuel which it connects to aircraft in mid flight through shuttlecock shaped drogue attached to a its rear.
The aircraft can refuel up to 50,000ft from the ground, though it will likely be far lower during the Super Bowl.
On top of all that, meteorologists say this will be the coldest Super Bowl ever recorded in the 52-year history of the annual game, with temperatures predicted to drop to three degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff.
According to US Today, the previous coldest game was 16 degrees in Detroit during Super Bowl XVI, on Jan. 24, 1982.
Lucky for players and fans, the game is scheduled to be played indoors at Minneapolis’s U.S. Bank Stadium, where temperatures are expected to be a cozy 70 degrees.
Grogan said that even though the Super Bowl was a week long event, planning took far longer.
He said: ‘The planning process is a year and a half to two years, it’s been well over a year and a half just for CBP, it’s the amount of time it takes to prepare’.
The Super Bowl is one of the missions undertaken by Air and Marine Operations, a division of Customs and Border Protection.
It is also the air support for FBI and DEA drug investigations and helped in the aftermath of the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico during 2017.