NORAD Equals Homeland Defense

By Jim Garamone, 
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

The North American Aerospace Defense Command is homeland defense.

The common defense of the North American continent traces its history back to 1940, when Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt met to discuss the war in Europe and mutual defense concerns. In September 1957, the two nations agreed to create the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as a bi-national command, centralizing operational control of continental air defenses.

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.

An F-15 Eagle assigned to the California Air National Guard is refueled by a KC-10 Extender assigned to Travis Air Force Base, California, during a mission supporting Operation Noble Eagle 2016. The refueling mission was in direct support of fighter aircraft patrolling the airspace surrounding Super Bowl 50. US Air Force photo by T.C. Perkins Jr.

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.

Senior Air Force Airman Ricardo Collie patrols the north gate of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex at Cheyenne Air Force Station, Colorado. Collie is one of many security layers to enter more than a mile inside a Colorado mountain to a complex of steel buildings that sit in caves. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee

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’s maritime domain awareness mission helps to provide the information and intelligence required to increase the security of U.S. and Canadian waterways and ports. Pictured here are four operational supersized container cranes on a 50-foot deep container berth at the Port of Baltimore, one of only two East Coast ports able to accommodate some of the world’s largest container vessels. Maryland Port Administration photo by Bill McAllen, courtesy of the Maryland Port Administration

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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