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North American Aerospace Defense Command
Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
North American Aerospace Defense Command logo.jpg

NORAD emblem
Type Aerospace warning and aerospace control
Coordinates 38.744331, -104.84668
Built 1961 (Directorate)[1]
In use 1958 - present
Canada / United States
Controlled by Joint operations of
Canadian Forces Air Command and United States Air Force and co-location with USNORTHCOM
Garrison Headquarters:Peterson Air Force Base
Directorate: Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station[2]
(west of Colorado Springs, CO)
Commanders Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., USAF (March 23, 2007 – )
Events May 2006 NORAD Agreement Renewal

North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD, pronounced /ˈnɒræd/ NORR-ad) is a joint organization of Canada and the United States that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries.[3] It was founded on May 12, 1958 (an effect of the Cold War) as a joint command between the governments of Canada and the United States, as the North American Air Defense Command. Its main technical facility has been the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate, formerly Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, of the Cheyenne Mtn. Air Force Station, Colorado; and for this reason NORAD is sometimes referred to as Cheyenne Mountain. In addition, the Canada East and Canada West Sector Air Operations Control Centres are located in the underground complex at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay in Ontario, Canada.

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.




NORAD Headquarters Building

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 north. 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 north. The systems gave around three hours' warning of a 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.

On June 16, 1961, the official groundbreaking ceremony was held at the construction site of the NORAD Combat Operations Center (COC). Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, NORAD Commander, and Lt. Gen. Robert Merrill Lee, ADC Commander, simultaneously set off symbolic dynamite charges.

Cold War and false alarms

NORAD blast doors, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

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 1981.

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 PACAF). 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.

Post-Cold War

An F-22 Raptor escorting Tu-95 Bear.

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 entering and operating within America and Canada[4], thereby contradicting General Richard Myers' statement in his testimony to the 9/11 Commission where he said NORAD was directed "looking outward" on 9/11[citation needed] (although commercial flights were not perceived to be threats). 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

Command center of NORAD

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the NORAD mission evolved to include monitoring of all aircraft flying in the interior of the United States.[5] 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.[6] 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.


The Commander of NORAD is always American and from 2002 has simultaneously headed USNORTHCOM, while the Deputy Commander is always Canadian. During the course of NORAD:s history there have been four diffrent U.S. combatant commands associated with NORAD:

Name of Command Abbreviation Emblem Association started Association ended Type of combatant command Notes
Continental Air Defense Command CONAD September 15, 1957 June 30, 1975 joint command 1954-1958
unified command 1958-1975
created on September 1, 1954; functions assumed by Aerospace Defense Command
Aerospace Defense Command ADCOM USAF-AerospaceDefenseCommand-Patch.png July 1, 1975 December 19, 1986 specified command functions assumed by United States Space Command
United States Space Command USSPACECOM United States Space Command emblem.gif September 23, 1985 October 1, 2002 unified command merged with United States Strategic Command
United States Northern Command USNORTHCOM United States Northern Command emblem.png October 1, 2002 continuing unified command
NORAD Commanders
Number Name Photo Start of term End of term Notable positions held before or after
1 General Earle E. Partridge, USAF 1957 1959
2 General Laurence S. Kuter, USAF Laurence Sherman Kuter.jpg 1959 1962
3 General John K. Gerhart, USAF John K Gerhart.jpg 1962
4 General Dean C. Strother, USAF Dean Coldwell Strother.jpg 1965 1966 U.S. Military Representative, NATO Military Committee, 1962–1965
5 General Raymond J. Reeves, USAF 1966 1969
6 General Seth J. McKee, USAF 1969 1973
7 General Lucius D. Clay, Jr., USAF Lucius D Clay Jr.jpg 1973 1975
8 General Daniel James, Jr., USAF James DanielChappie.jpg 1975 1977
9 General James E. Hill, USAF James E Hill.jpg 1977 1979
10 General James V. Hartinger, USAF James V Hartinger.jpg 1980 1984
11 General Robert T. Herres, USAF General Robert Herres, military portrait, 1984.JPEG 1984 1987 1st Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1987-1990)
12 General John L. Piotrowski, USAF John L Piotrowski.jpg 1987 1990 22nd Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (1985-1987)
13 General Donald J. Kutyna, USAF Donald Kutyna.jpg 1990 1992 Member of the Rogers Commission (1986-1988)
14 General Charles A. "Chuck" Horner, USAF Charles Horner.jpg June, 1992 September, 1994 Commander, 9th Air Force, and Commander, U.S. Central Command Air Forces (1987 -1992), he led U.S. and allied air operations for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
15 General Joseph W. Ashy, USAF Joseph ashy.jpg September, 1994 August, 1996
16 General Howell M. Estes III, USAF Howell M Estes III.jpg August, 1996 August 14, 1998
17 General Richard B. Myers, USAF Richard Myers official portrait 2.jpg August 14, 1998 February 22, 2000 5th Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2000-2001)
15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2001-2005)
18 General Ralph E. "Ed" Eberhart, USAF Eberhart re.jpg February 22, 2000 November 5, 2004 27th Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (1997-1999)
19 Admiral Timothy J. Keating, USN Timothy J. Keating.jpg November 5, 2004 March 23, 2007 Director of the Joint Staff (2003-2004)
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (2007-2009)
20 General Victor E. Renuart Jr., USAF Victor E. Renuart Jr. 2008.jpg March 23, 2007 incumbent Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (2006-2007)

Recent deputy commanders include:

Notable popular culture

NORAD comes to the public's attention during December and on Christmas Eve, when its NORAD Tracks Santa service pretends to follow Santa Claus on his journey around the world. This tradition started in 1955 when a local Sears store in Colorado misprinted the telephone number and children thought they were calling Santa, but actually were calling Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD's predecessor) instead.[7]

Cheyenne Mountain was the central setting of the 1983 motion picture WarGames, starring Matthew Broderick as a teenager who hacked NORAD's main computer and almost started a global thermonuclear war.

Cheyenne Mountain is also the main setting of the Stargate Universe serving as the Command Center for all Stargate Operations in the Milky Way Galaxy, as well as the Thunder Mountain home of the protagonists in the post-apocalyptic series Jeremiah.

See also



  • Cole, Ronald H.; Poole, Walter S.; Schnabel, James S.; Watson, Robert J.; Webb, Willard J. The History of the Unified Command Plan 1946-1993. Washington DC, Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1995.
  • Trask, Roger R.; Goldberg, Alfred; The Department of Defense, 1947-1997: organization and leaders. Washington DC, Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1997.


External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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