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North American Aerospace Defense Command

Map of NORAD Regions and Sectors NORAD Headquarters Building NORAD blast doors, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Command center of NORAD North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD, ) is a joint organization of Canada and the United States that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries.[1] Headquarters NORAD is located at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado. NORAD command and control is exercised through the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, located a short distance away.



The organization was established 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.

Similar to the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate, but on a smaller scale, the Canada East and Canada West Sector Air Operations Control Centres were located in an underground complex 600 feet below the surface at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) North Bay in Ontario, Canada. On October 12, 2006, NORAD operations at CFB North Bay have officially moved above ground into the newly-constructed Sergeant David L. Pitcher Building, and the underground complex has been "mothballed" but can be returned to operation if it should be needed again.


The Commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) maintains a headquarters and command center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The NORAD and USNORTHCOM Command Center serves as a central collection and coordination facility for a worldwide system of sensors designed to provide the commander and the leadership of Canada and the U.S. with an accurate picture of any aerospace or maritime threat.[2] NORAD has administratively divided the North American landmass into three regions, the Alaska NORAD (ANR) Region, under Eleventh Air Force; the Canadian NORAD (CANR) Region, under 1 Canadian Air Division, and the Continental U.S. (CONR) Region, under 1 AF/CONR-AFNORTH. Both the CONR and CANR regions are divided into eastern and western sectors.

Alaska NORAD Region

The Alaska NORAD Region (ANR) maintains 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week capability to detect, validate and warn of any atmospheric threat in its area of operations from its Regional Operations Control Center (ROCC) at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

ANR also maintains the readiness to conduct a continuum of aerospace control missions, which include daily air sovereignty in peacetime, contingency and/or deterrence in time of tension, and active air defense against manned and unmanned air-breathing atmospheric vehicles in times of crisis.

ANR is supported by both active duty and reserve units. Active duty forces are provided by Eleventh Air Force and the Canadian Forces, and reserve forces provided by the Alaska Air National Guard. Both 11 AF and the CF provide active duty personnel to the ROCC to maintain continuous surveillance of Alaskan airspace.

Canadian NORAD Region

1 Canadian Air Division/Canadian NORAD Region Headquarters is at CFB Winnipeg, Manitoba. It is responsible for providing surveillance and control of Canadian airspace. The Royal Canadian Air Force provides alert assets to NORAD. CANR is divided into two sectors, which are designated as the Canada East Sector and Canada West Sector. Both Sector Operations Control Centers (SOCCs) are co-located at CFB North Bay Ontario. The routine operation of the SOCCs includes reporting track data, sensor status and aircraft alert status to NORAD headquarters.

Canadian air defense forces assigned to NORAD include 441 and 416th Tactical Fighter Squadrons at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta and 425 and 433 Tactical Fighter Squadrons at CFB Bagotville, Quebec. All squadrons fly the CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft.

In cooperation with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the United States drug law enforcement agencies, the Canadian NORAD Region monitors all air traffic approaching the coast of Canada. Any aircraft that has not filed a flight plan may be directed to land and be inspected by RCMP and Customs Canada.

Continental United States NORAD Region

see also: Eastern Air Defense Sector (US East SOCC)
see also: Western Air Defense Sector (US West SOCC)

The Continental NORAD Region (CONR) is the component of NORAD that provides airspace surveillance and control and directs air sovereignty activities for the Continental United States (CONUS).

CONR is the NORAD designation of the United States Air Force First Air Force/AFNORTH. Its headquarters is located at Tyndall AFB, Florida. 1 AF became responsible for the USAF air defense mission on 30 September 1990. AFNORTH is the United States Air Force component of United States Northern Command (NORTHCOM),

1 AF/CONR-AFNORTH comprises State Air National Guard Fighter Wings assigned an air defense mission to 1 AF/CONR-AFNORTH, made up primarily of citizen Airmen. The primary weapons systems are the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft

It plans, conducts, controls, coordinates and ensures air sovereignty and provides for the unilateral defense of the United States. It is organized with a combined First Air Force command post at Tyndall AFB and two Sector Operations Control Centers (SOCC) at Rome, New York for the US East ROCC and McChord Field, Washington for the US West ROCC manned by active duty personnel to maintain continuous surveillance of CONUS airspace.

In its role as the CONUS NORAD Region, 1 AF/CONR-AFNORTH also performs counter-drug surveillance operations.



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 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. Nonetheless, stopping incoming bombers was very difficult. During the three Operation Skyshield exercises of 1960 to 1962, only one quarter of friendly aircraft acting as Soviet bombers was intercepted.[3]

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

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 three 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.[4] On June 3, 1980, and again on June 6, 1980, 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.[5][6] During these incidents, 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 did not match anything about the erroneous data received from NORAD.

Post Cold War

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[7] (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.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the NORAD mission evolved to include monitoring of all aircraft flying in the interior of the United States.[8] 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.[9] 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.

NORAD commander Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr. said in 2010 that NORAD did not send interceptors to intercept every flight of Russian bombers near U.S. airspace because NORAD did not wish to feed Russia's propaganda about their illusion of power.[10]

Commanders and deputy commanders

The Commander of NORAD is always a United States Defense Department Officer confirmed by the US Senate 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 different United States commands associated with NORAD:

Name of Command Abbreviations Emblem Association started Association ended Type of combatant command Notes
Air Defense Command
Aerospace Defense Command
100px 15 November 1957 31 March 1980 specified command Air Defense Command re-designated as Aerospace Defense Command, 15 January 1968. A new JCS Unified Command Plan designated ADC as a specified command and changed its name to the Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) on 1 July 1975. ADCOM inactivated on 31 March 1980 as specified command. Some components of ADCOM were reassigned to the Aerospace Defense Center, a USAF direct reporting unit assigned to Headquarters, NORAD that inactivated on 1 October 1986.
Air Defense, Tactical Air Command ADTAC 100px 1 October 1979 1 July 1987 Air Division Resource management responsibility of ADCOM's atmospheric defense units transferred to Tactical Air Command; ADTAC established under TAC at Air Division echelon level for command of transferred ADCOM forces.
United States Space Command USSPACECOM 100px September 23, 1985 October 1, 2002 functional unified command merged with United States Strategic Command
United States Northern Command USNORTHCOM 100px October 1, 2002 continuing regional unified command


The NORAD commander is an American four-star General, or equivalent. Since 2004 commanders have included Admirals.

NORAD Commanders
Number Name Photo Start of term Association ended Notable positions held before or after
1 General Earle E. Partridge, USAF 50px 1957 1959 World War I enlisted Army combat veteran, participated in two major ground offensives on Western Front; USMA class 1924; USAAF CS Fifteenth Air Force DC Eighth Air Force World War II; Commander USAF Far East Air Forces, 1954.
2 General Laurence S. Kuter, USAF 50px 1959 1962 Commander 1st Bombardment Wing, Eighth Air Force; DC, Northwest African Tactical Air Force; Commander Atlantic Division, Air Transport Command; Commander, Military Air Transport Service; Commander, Far East Air Forces
3 General John K. Gerhart, USAF 50px 1962 1965
4 General Dean C. Strother, USAF 50px 1965 1966 U.S. Military Representative, NATO Military Committee, 1962 1965
5 General Raymond J. Reeves, USAF 50px 1966 1969
6 General Seth J. McKee, USAF 50px 1969 1973
7 General Lucius D. Clay, Jr., USAF 50px 1973 1975
8 General Daniel James, Jr., USAF 50px 1975 1977
9 General James E. Hill, USAF 50px 1977 1979
10 General James V. Hartinger, USAF 50px 1980 1984
11 General Robert T. Herres, USAF 50px 1984 1987 1st Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1987 1990)
12 General John L. Piotrowski, USAF 50px 1987 1990 22nd Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (1985 1987)
13 General Donald J. Kutyna, USAF 50px 1990 1992 Member of the Rogers Commission (1986 1988)
14 General Charles A. "Chuck" Horner, USAF 50px 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 50px September, 1994 August, 1996
16 General Howell M. Estes III, USAF 50px August, 1996 August 14, 1998
17 General Richard B. Myers, USAF 50px 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 50px February 22, 2000 November 5, 2004 27th Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force (1997 1999)
19 Admiral Timothy J. Keating, USN 50px 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 50px March 23, 2007 May 19, 2010 Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (2006 2007)
21 Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., USN 50px May 19, 2010 August 3, 2011 Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, The Joint Staff which he concurrently served as the Senior Member, U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Military Staff Committee (2008 2010)
22 General Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., USA 50px August 3, 2011 Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, J5

Deputy commanders

In recent years deputy commanders have always been Canadian air force lieutenant generals. Prior to the 1968 unification of the Canadian Forces, the deputy commanders were RCAF Air Marshals.[11]

NORAD Deputy Commanders
Number Name Photo Start of term Association ended Notable positions held before or after
1 Air Marshal Roy Slemon, CB, CBE, CD, RCAF 50px September 1957 August 1964 Chief of the Air Staff (1953 1957)
2 Air Marshal Clarence Rupert Dunlap, CBE, CD, RCAF 50px August 1964 August 1967 Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (1958 1962), Chief of the Air Staff (1962 1964)
3 Air Marshal William R. MacBrien OBE, CD, RCAF 50px August 1967 January 1969
4 Lieutenant-General Frederick Ralph Sharp CMM, DFC, CD 50px January 1969 September 1969 Chief of the Defence Staff (1969 1972)
5 Lieutenant-General Edwin Reyno, CF September 1969 August 1972 Chief of Personnel of the Canadian Forces (1966 1969)
6 Lieutenant-General Reginald J. Lane, DSO, DFC and Bar, CD, LoM (USA) September 1972 October 1974 Deputy Commander of Mobile Command (1969 1972)[12]
7 Lieutenant-General Richard C . Stovel, AFC, CD, LoM (USA) October 1974 September 1976
8 Lieutenant-General David R. Adamson September 1976 August 1978
9 Lieutenant-General Kenneth E. Lewis 1978 1980
10 Lieutenant-General Kenneth J. Thorneycroft June 1980 May 1983
11 Lieutenant-General Donald C. MacKenzie, CF May 1983 August 1986
12 Lieutenant-General Donald M. McNaughton, CF August 1986 August 1989
13 Lieutenant-General Robert W. Morton, CMM, CD, BSc (RMC) August 1989 August 1992 [13]
14 Lieutenant-General Brian L. Smith August 1992 August 1994 [13]
15 Lieutenant-General J. D. O'Blenis, CF August 1994 August 1995
16 Lieutenant-General L. W. F. Cuppens, CF August 1995 April 1998
17 Lieutenant-General G C Macdonald, CF April 1998 August 2001
18 Lieutenant-General Ken R. Pennie, CF August 8, 2001 July 14, 2003 Chief of the Air Staff (2003 2005)
19 Lieutenant-General Rick Findley CF 50px July 14, 2003 August 2, 2007 Chief of Staff for Personnel, Training, and Reserves; Chief of Staff for Operations at 1 Canadian Air Division; Director of Combat Operations at NORAD
20 Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard CMM CD CF 50px August 2, 2007 July 10, 2009 Deputy Commander for Continental NORAD Region, Deputy Commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples
21 Lieutenant-General Marcel Duval CMM CF 50px July 10, 2009 August 15, 2011 Canadian Contingent Commander Middle East; Commander of 1 Wing
21 Lieutenant-General Thomas J. Lawson CMM CD CF 50px August 15, 2011 Assistant Chief of the Air Staff

Legacy organizations

Notable popular culture

NORAD comes to the public's attention every Christmas Eve when its NORAD Tracks Santa service purportedly follows Santa Claus on his mythical and nominal night-time journey around the world.[14] This tradition began in 1955 when a local Sears store in Colorado misprinted the telephone number and children thought they were calling Santa, but actually were calling Air Defense Command (NORAD's predecessor) instead,[15] and has been kept up-to-date in the era of the Internet, social media, and smartphones.[16]

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 Earth setting of the Stargate universe, serving as the Command Center for all Stargate Operations in the Milky Way Galaxy.

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

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