As the DEW Line became operational in August 1957, the United States and Canada reached agreement to create an integrated operational control system for the air defense forces of the two countries. NORAD was thus established in September. Its headquarters was located at Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, while an operations center was constructed in a deep, hardened bunker inside nearby Cheyenne Mountain. Initial operations began in April 1966. The NORAD commander was a U.S. general who also commanded the U.S. Continental Air Defense (CONAD) Command and the U.S. Air Force component, the Air Defense Command (ADC). The deputy commander was a Canadian flag officer.
The NORAD command and control system integrated the full range of air defense capabilities. The early warning system included the northern DEW Line, the Mid-Canada Line, the Pinetree Line, coastal radar sites, Texas Tower radar sites at sea, U.S. Navy picket ships, and U.S. Air Force airborne radar platforms. NORAD directed its active defenses through a series of computerized operations centers that controlled air defense assets for designated regions of the two countries. The system controlled American and Canadian interceptor aircraft and U.S. Army and Air Force surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) dedicated to strategic defense as well as other available resources such as fighter aircraft that could be assigned to air defense in an emergency. As the missile threat evolved, NORAD also became responsible for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and a range of space-tracking systems. Although CONAD was responsible for operational antiballistic missile (ABM) capabilities (the Safeguard system was briefly operational in 1975–1976), the Canadian government declined to become involved in ABM activities.
During the 1970s, the air defense forces assigned to NORAD were significantly reduced, and subordinate command structures were revised, reflecting the increased threat from ballistic missiles and changing national strategies. The strategic SAM sites were phased out, dedicated interceptor units were substantially reduced, and the multiservice CONAD was disbanded, replaced by the Aerospace Defense Command. The Canadian component changed from the Canadian Forces Air Defence Command to the Air Defence Group. The role of NORAD shifted to emphasize warning and attack assessment as well as space surveillance and supporting nuclear deterrence by ensuring that a surprise attack would not destroy U.S. retaliatory forces. In 1979, a major U.S. Air Force reorganization resulted in most ADC operational capabilities being dispersed to the Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command (SAC), with the ADC being inactivated in 1981.
The increased role of space in NORAD operations was recognized when the name was changed to the North American Aerospace Defense Command in 1981. As the Cold War ended, NORAD's functions continued to provide the warning and space surveillance missions.
Jerome V. Martin
Jockel, Joseph T. No Boundaries Upstairs: Canada, the United States, and the Origins of North American Air Defense, 1945–1958. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987.; Jockel, Joseph T., and Joel J. Sokolsky, eds. Fifty Years of Canada-United States Defense Cooperation: The Road from Ogdensburg. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1992.; 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.