North American Aerospace Defense Command


The NORAD shield.
The NORAD shield.

NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command. It is a joint United States and Canadian organization which provides aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America, and was founded on May 12, 1958 under the name North American Air Defense Command. Aerospace warning or integrated tactical warning and attack assessment (ITW/AA) covers the monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles. Aerospace control includes providing surveillance and control of Canadian and United States airspace.

The organization is headed by a commander appointed by both the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. The commander is based at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado with the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, the central collection and coordination facility for the sensor systems around the world, nearby. Three subordinate headquarters at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, CFB Winnipeg, Manitoba (dual Headquarters (HQ) for 1 Canadian Air Division (1CAD ( and the Canadian NORAD Region (CANR)), and Tyndall AFB, Florida, receive direction from the Commander and control operations within their areas.

The commanding officer of NORAD is Admiral Timothy J. Keating, USN, who is also the commander of the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). The deputy commander of NORAD is Lt. General Rick "Eric" Findley, Canadian Forces Air Command. Traditionally the commanding officer of NORAD is American and the deputy commander Canadian. Both Canadian and U.S. forces have a commander for their contingents at Cheyenne Mountain.

NORAD and NORTHCOM have no direct command and control links with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but both organizations coordinate training and planning NORTHCOM missions.



The growing perception of the threat of Soviet long-range strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons brought Canada and the US into closer cooperation for air defense. In the early 1950s they agreed to construct a series of radar stations across North America to detect a Soviet attack over the pole. The first series of radars was the Pinetree Line, completed in 1954, 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 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 57 stations along the 70th parallel. The systems gave around three hours warning of bomber attack before they could reach any major population centre. Attacks across the Pacific or Atlantic would have been detected by AEW aircraft, Navy ships, or offshore radar platforms. 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 US and Canada to establish an integrated command, the North American Air Defense Command. On September 12, NORAD operations commenced at Ent, Colorado. A formal NORAD agreement between the two governments was signed on May 12, 1958. By the early 1960s, a quarter of a million personnel were involved in the operation of NORAD. The emergence of the ICBM and 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 to the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

From 1963 the Air Force was reduced and sections of the now-obsolete radar system were shut down. But there was increased effort to protect against a 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 MAD led to a cut in the air defense budget and the repositioning of NORAD's mission to ensuring the integrity of air space 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. These recommendations were accepted by the governments in 1985, there was also the formation of a new United States Space Command in September 1985 as an adjunct but not a component of 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—such as tracking small-engine 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.

NORAD comes to public attention at Christmas, when it purports to track Santa Claus on his journey around the world delivering toys for the world's children. 2004 marked the 50th time of NORAD tracking Santa, this tradition started when a local Sears store in Colorado misprinted the phone number and kids, who thought they were getting Santa, got NORAD instead. This has become a tradition ever since 1954.

While the terms "NORAD" and "Cheyenne Mountain" are often used interchangeably to describe the facility, NORAD is the name of the Command, while Cheyenne Mountain is the name of the facility. The facility is hosted by the U.S. Air Force, under the command of the 721st Support Group (, part of the 21st Space Wing (, headquartered out of Peterson Air Force Base.


Popular Culture

Cheyenne Mountain was one of the settings of the 1983 motion picture WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a teenager that hacked NORAD's main computer and almost started a nuclear war. Barry Corbin played a fictional NORAD commanding officer, General Jack Beringer. The movie is often used in support of nuclear disarmament, but is also one of the first movies to shed light on the culture of computer hacking.

As well, Cheyenne Mountain is featured prominently in the television show Stargate SG-1, as it is the location for the fictional Stargate Command.

See also

External links

de:NORAD fr:North American aerospace defense ja:北アメリカ航空宇宙防衛司令部 nl:NORAD no:North American Aerospace Defense Command sl:NORAD


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