THE HISTORY, FORMATION AND LOCATION OF NORAD
(NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND)
North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a joint organization of Canada and the United States that provides aerospace warning and defense for North America. It was founded on May 12, 1958, as the North American Air Defense Command. Its main technical facility has been the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, and for this reason NORAD is sometimes unofficially referred to as Cheyenne Mountain.
NORAD's headquarters facilities in Colorado are administered by the U.S. Air Force under the command of the 721st Mission Support Group, part of the 21st Space Wing, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base. NORAD's forces consist of the Alaskan NORAD Region/Eleventh Air Force, Canadian NORAD Region, and Continental NORAD Region.
History and Information on NORAD
The growing perception of the threat of long-range Soviet strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons brought the U.S. and Canada into closer cooperation for air defense. While attacks from the Pacific or Atlantic would have been detected by Airborne Early Warning aircraft, Navy ships, or offshore radar platforms, the Arctic was underprotected. In the early 1950s the U.S. and Canada agreed to construct a series of radar stations across North America to detect a Soviet attack over the Arctic. The first series of radars was the Pinetree Line, completed in 1954 and consisting of 33 stations across southern Canada. However, technical defects in the system led to more radar networks being built. In 1957, the McGill Fence was completed; it consisted of Doppler radar for the detection of low-flying craft. This system was roughly 300 miles (480 km) north of the Pinetree Line along the 55th parallel. The third joint system was the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line), also completed in 1957. This was a network of 58 stations along the 69th parallel. The systems gave around three hours warning of bomber attack before they could reach any major population center.
The command and control of the massive system then became a significant challenge. Discussions and studies of joint systems had been ongoing since the early 1950s and culminated on August 1, 1957, with the announcement by the U.S. and Canada to establish an integrated command, the North American Air Defense Command. On September 12, operations commenced in Colorado. A formal NORAD agreement between the two governments was signed on May 12, 1958.
Cold War and false alarms
By the early 1960s, about 250,000 personnel were involved in the operation of NORAD. The emergence of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) threat in the early 1960s was something of a blow. In response, a space surveillance and missile warning system was constructed to provide worldwide space detection, tracking and identification. The extension of NORAD's mission into space led to a name change, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in March 2007.
From 1963, the size of the U.S. Air Force was reduced, and obsolete sections of the radar system were shut down. However, there was increased effort to protect against an ICBM attack; two underground operations centers were set up, the main one inside Cheyenne Mountain and an alternate at North Bay, Ontario. By the early 1970s, the acceptance of mutual assured destruction doctrine led to a cut in the air defense budget and the repositioning of NORAD's mission to ensuring the integrity of airspace during peacetime. There followed significant reductions in the air defense system until the 1980s, when, following the 1979 Joint US-Canada Air Defense Study (JUSCADS) the need for the modernization of air defenses was accepted—the DEW Line was to be replaced with an improved Arctic radar line called the North Warning System (NWS); there was to be the deployment of Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar; the assignment of more advanced fighters to NORAD, and the greater use of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma or Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. These recommendations were accepted by the governments in 1985. The United States Space Command was formed in September 1985 as an adjunct but not a component of NORAD.
Even though all equipment in Cheyenne Mountain was put through a rigorous inspection, on at least two occasions, failure in its systems could have potentially caused nuclear war. On November 9, 1979, a technician in NORAD loaded a test tape but failed to switch the system status to "test," causing a stream of constant false warnings to spread to two "continuity of government" bunkers as well as command posts worldwide. A similar incident occurred on June 2, 1980, when a computer communications device failure caused warning messages to sporadically flash in U.S. Air Force command posts around the world that a nuclear attack was taking place. Both times, Pacific Air Forces properly had their planes (loaded with nuclear bombs) in the air; Strategic Air Command did not and took criticism because they did not follow procedure, even though the SAC command knew these were almost certainly false alarms (as did PAC). Both command posts had recently begun receiving and processing direct reports from the various radar, satellite, and other missile attack detection systems, and those direct reports simply didn't match anything about the erroneous data received from NORAD.
At the end of the Cold War NORAD reassessed its mission. To avoid cutbacks, from 1989 NORAD operations expanded to cover counter-drug operations, especially the tracking of small aircraft. But the DEW line sites were still replaced, in a scaled-back fashion by the North Warning System radars between 1986 and 1995. The Cheyenne Mountain site was also upgraded. However, none of the proposed OTH-B radars are currently in operation.
Post-September 11, 2001 attacks
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, NORAD was criticized for its inability to mount an effective and timely interception of the four rogue jetliners. In response, their mission evolved to include monitoring of all aircraft flying in the interior of the United States. NORAD oversees Operation Noble Eagle using fighter aircraft Combat Air Patrols (CAP) under command of First Air Force and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) E-3 Sentry aircraft under command of the 552nd Air Control Wing. At U.S. request, NATO deployed five of its NATO AWACS aircraft to the U.S. to help NORAD in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
On July 28, 2006, military officials announced that NORAD's day-to-day operations would be consolidated, for purposes of efficiency, in an ordinary building at Peterson Air Force Base in nearby Colorado Springs. The mountain will be kept only as a backup in "warm standby," though fully operational and staffed with support personnel should the need arise. NORAD officials stated that the same surveillance work can be continued without the security the facility provides. They emphasized that they are no longer concerned about a halt to their operations from an intercontinental nuclear attack.
Navy Boeing E-6 Mercury Flying NORAD Headquarters - Used if the main NORAD is Destroyed