By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. military website showing Santa Claus delivering his presents while guarded by warplanes has some children's advocates worried.
In a twist to its tradition of tracking an animated version of Santa Claus' sleigh and reindeer as he flies around the globe on December 24, the military is adding the animated fighter plane escort to give a realistic feel to the popular feature, said a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
"We wanted to let folks know that, hey, this is a NORAD video, and we're the military and this is our mission," said the spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis.
The program sponsored by NORAD drew 22.3 million visitors last year and generated 114,000 phone calls from around the United States, he said.
The 2013 video shows Santa, guided by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, zooming over snowy mountains with two warplanes on either side.
Josh Golin, associate director of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, called the new campaign "reprehensible" since it played on children's fears by suggesting that Santa Claus was vulnerable to attack.
"It's a backdoor way of marketing to kids when they are not supposed to be recruiting until they are much older," he said.
NORAD has the job of tracking and intercepting such potential threats as enemy bombers or ballistic missiles. It has been sponsoring a Track Santa program since the mid-1950s to highlight its mission.
Davis said NORAD videos had linked fighter escorts and Santa since the 1960s, but 2013 marked the first time the planes had been shown in an animated version.
A video on the NORAD website shows military personnel seemingly preparing for a test flight by Santa, who has the call sign "Big Red One."
"We all know that Santa travels faster than starlight," an officer says in the video, "but this is nothing that our technologies can't handle."
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)