Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Distant Early Warning Line

A string of radar stations stretching just above the Arctic Circle and extending from Alaska to Greenland, positioned to provide warning of an intercontinental ballistic missile or bomber attack from the Soviet Union against North America. U.S. President Harry S. Truman approved construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in late 1952. Following considerable public debate, the initial line of fifty-seven sites came into operation in 1957.

The U.S. Air Force Continental Air Command hoped that the DEW Line would provide five to six hours' warning of a bomber attack from the Soviet Union. Such time would allow U.S. interceptors to scramble and meet the attackers and would also permit the dispersal and protection of U.S. Strategic Air Command bombers. The DEW Line was constantly upgraded during the course of the Cold War and reached its maximum extent in the early 1960s with seventy-eight radar stations. Supplementing the DEW Line were the Mid-Canada and Pinetree radar nets as well as seaward extensions in the form of platforms known as Texas Towers, navy picket ships, and aircraft. The DEW Line remained in place during the entirety of the Cold War, but from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s it was gradually replaced by the North Warning System, which actually made use of many of the DEW Line installations.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Morenus, Richard. DEW Line: Distant Early Warning, the Miracle of America's First Line of Defense. New York: Rand McNally, 1957.; Schaffel, Kenneth. The Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense, 1945–1960. Office of Air Force History. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1990.
 

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