By Jim Garamone,
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The North American Aerospace Defense Command is homeland defense.
NORAD was born in 1958 as the North American Air Defense Command with a mission to defend North America from a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. It has morphed over the years into the military homeland defense organization for the United States and Canada.
The command is closely aligned with U.S. Northern Command, and Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson commands both NORAD and Northcom. Her headquarters is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The deputy commander of NORAD is Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. Pierre St-Amand.
In its early years, the command focused on the Soviet threat, and terms like the DEW line – Distant Early Warning radars – and BMEWS – Ballistic Missile Early Warning System – entered the popular culture.
NORAD aircraft intercepted Soviet bombers flying along the North American coasts. Aircraft and pilots were on ready alert at bases from Alaska to Nova Scotia and all points between.
Space became a more important domain, and NORAD assumed that responsibility, changing the “Air Defense” in its title to “Aerospace Defense” in 1981.
NORAD is best known in popular culture as a headquarters under a mountain with massive radar screens and large screen monitors that can switch to any display from all over the world. Hollywood’s version is much bigger and somewhat cooler than reality. While NORAD once had its headquarters in tunnels under Cheyenne Mountain, it is now very much above ground at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is still in use by many federal agencies. Construction started in 1961 and was finished in 1966. The complex could be used as alternate command center for NORAD if needed.
NORAD commands Operation Noble Eagle, the air defense mission put in place in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That mission continues to this day, with more than 70,000 sorties flown in support.
NORAD may want to contemplate a name change again in the future, as the command now has a maritime defense component. In 2006, the NORAD agreement between the United States and Canada added a portion calling on the command to have “a shared awareness and understanding of the activities conducted in U.S. and Canadian maritime approaches, maritime areas and internal waterways.”
Finally, each year 1,500 NORAD volunteers work diligently every December tracking and protecting Santa Claus as he makes his Christmas rounds.
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