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Aerospace Defense Command

Aerospace Defense Command
Air Defense Command
The Air Defense Command organization was subvided into Air Division units designated for CONUS geographic areas. In 1959 during the Denver Air Defense Sector didn't activate.)
Active 1946–1950; 1951-1980 March 31
Country United States
Branch United States Army Air Force
United States Air Force
(1947–1948) (1951–1980)
Type 1975: Specified Command
1946: Major Command

1966 April 20: Chidlaw Building, Colorado
1951 January 8: Ent AFB, Colorado

1946 March 21: Mitchel Field, New York

Aerospace Defense Command (Air Defense Command before 1968) was a Continental United States (CONUS), exercise direct control of all active measures, and coordinate all passive means of air defense.


  • Overview 1
    • Chronology of major events 1.1
  • Background 2
    • Continental Air Forces 2.1
  • Air Defense Command 3
    • Reinstatement 3.1
    • Interceptor Aircraft 3.2
      • Interceptor gunnery training 3.2.1
    • Defense Systems Evaluation 3.3
    • Continental defense 3.4
      • Missile warning and space surveillance 3.4.1
      • Consolidated C3 3.4.2
      • Inactivation 3.4.3
  • Lineage 4
  • Components 5
    • Air Defense Forces 5.1
    • Air Forces 5.2
    • Regions 5.3
    • Air Divisions 5.4
    • Air Defense Sectors 5.5
    • Other 5.6
  • References 6


ADC interceptors (Convair F-106A Delta Dart) near Mount Rushmore (lower right background)

During the 1946 transition to an independent Air Force military branch, the United States Army Air Forces activated Air Defense Command (ADC) with a Numbered Air Force of the former Continental Air Forces, from which it took its mission of air warning and air defense. After the 1947 USAF transfer, ADC become part of Continental Air Command (ConAC) on 1 December 1948. ConAC gradually assumed direct charge of ADC air defense components and ADC inactivated on 1 July 1950 at the beginning of the Korean War. On 10 November 1950, Generals Vandenberg and Twining notified General Whitehead that "the Air Force had approved activation of a separate Air Defense Command [from CONAC] with headquarters on Ent"[1]:140 with the mission to stop a handful of conventionally armed piston engine-powered bombers on a one-way mission.

With advances in USSR bombers, ADC completed improved radar networks and manned interceptors in the 1950s, and at the end of the decade computerized Air Defense Direction Centers to allow air defense controllers to more quickly review integrated military air defense warning (MADW) data and dispatch defenses (e.g., surface-to-air missiles in 1959). ADC began missile warning and space surveillance missions in 1960 and 1961, established a temporary missile warning network for the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and in 1968 was redesignated Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM).

In 1975, ADCOM became a specified command and the United States' executive agent in the North American Air Defense Command—the single CINCNORAD/CINCAD commanded both. ADCOM's last surface-to-air missiles were taken off alert in 1972, and the Federal Aviation Administration took over many of ADCOM's SAGE radar stations. In 1979 the number of manned interceptors had dropped to tbd, and on 1 October 1979 ADCOM interceptors/bases and remaining air warning radar stations transferred to Tactical Air Command. ADCOM's missile warning and space surveillance installations transferred in 1979 to SAC/SX,[2]) and the Air Force Element, NORAD/ADCOM (AFENA)[2] was redesignated the Aerospace Defense Center.[3]

Within a few years, the Aerospace Defense Center, the ADCOM specified command organizations, along with SAC's missile warning and space surveillance installations became part of the 1982 Space Command which activated its headquarters in the same building where ADCOM had been inactivated on 31 March 1980.

Chronology of major events


Army Radar Stations" which communicated radar tracks by telephone. The AWC information centers also integrated visual reports processed by Ground Observer Corps filter centers. AWC information centers notified air defense command posts of the "4 continental air forces" for deploying interceptor aircraft which used command guidance for ground-controlled interception. The USAAF "inactivated the aircraft warning network in April 1944",[6]:38 e.g., the Mount Tamalpais Radar Site in California[7] (the landform was later used by ADC.)

Continental Air Forces

Continental Air Forces (CAF) was a command "activated 12 December 1944"[8] with the 4 "Air Forces" as components to consolidate the CONUS air defense mission under one command[9] (AAF Regulation 20-1 later specified the post-war CAF mission.)[10] For aircraft warning, in 1945 CAF had recommended "research and development be undertaken on radar and allied equipment for an air defense system [for] the future threat", e.g., a "radar [with] range of 1,000 miles, [to detect] at an altitude of 200 miles, and at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour";[11] but the Hq AAF responded that "until the kind of defense needed to counter future attacks could be determined, AC&W planning would have to be restricted to the use of available radar sets".[12] CAF's January 1946 Radar Defense Report for Continental United States recommended military characteristics for a post-war Air Defense System "based upon such advanced equipment,"[13] and the HQ AAF Plans reminded "the command that radar defense planning had to be based on the available equipment."[14]

Planning to reorganize for a separate USAF had begun by the fall 1945 Strategic Air Command, the Air Defense Command, the Tactical Air Command, the Air Transport Command and the supporting Air Technical Service Command, Air Training Command, the Air University, and the Air Force Center."[15]

The "Continental Air Forces reorganization"[16] began in 1945 when Muroc Field transferred to ATSC (16 October), and Moody Field transferred to AAF Training Command (1 November)--ground radar and interceptor plans at CAF HQ "in expectation that it would become" Air Defense Command were prepared for the transfer.[9] CAF military installations that became ADC bases included :

Air Defense Command

Air Defense Command was activated on 21 March 1946 with the former CAF Fourth Air Force, the tbd's Tenth Air Force, and the tbd's Fourteenth Air Force (Second Air Force was reactivated and added on 6 June.) In December 1946 "Development of Radar Equipment for Detecting and Countering Missiles of the German A-4 type" was planned[17] (part of Signal Corps' Project 414A contracted to Bell Laboratories in 1945).[6]:207 The Distant Early Warning Line was "first conceived—and rejected—in 1946".[6]:2

A 1947 proposal for 411 radar stations and 18 control centers costing $600 million[18] was the Project Supremacy plan for a postwar Radar Fence that was rejected by Air Defense Command since "no provision was made in it for the Alaska to Greenland net with flanks guarded by aircraft and picket ships [required] for 3 to 6 hours of warning time",[6]:129 and "Congress failed to act on legislation required to support the proposed system".[6] (In the spring and summer of 1947, 3 ADC AC&W plans had gone unfunded.[19]:53) By 1948 there were only 5 AC&W stations, including the Twin Lights station in NJ that opened in June and Montauk NY "Air Warning Station #3 (July 5)[20]--cf. SAC radar stations, e.g., at Dallas & Denver Bomb Plots.[21]

ADC became a subordinate operational command of Continental Air Command on 1 December 1948 and on 27 June 1950, United States air defense systems began 24-hour operations two days after the start of the Korean War.[22] By the time ADC was inactivated on 1 July 1950, ADC had deployed the Lashup Radar Network with existing radars at 43 sites. In addition, 36 Air National Guard fighter units were called to active duty for the mission.[18]


ADC was reinstated as a major command on 1 January 1951 at Mitchel Air Force Base, New York, moved to Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs on 8 January 1951, and received 21 former ConAC active-duty fighter squadrons (37 additional Air National Guard fighter squadrons if called to active duty). ADC was also assigned the 25th, 26th 27th and 28th Air Divisions (Defense)[22] ADC completed the Priority Permanent System network for Aircraft Warning and Control (ground-controlled interception) in 1952. Gaps were filled by additional Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar stations and the Ground Observation Corps (disbanded 1959).[18] In May 1954, ADC moved their 1951 command center from a former hallway/latrine area of the Ent AFB headquarters building into a "much improved 15,000-square-foot concrete block" building[1]:261 with "main battle control center".[23]

During the mid-1950s, the nation's defense planners devised the idea of extending the wall of powerful land-based radar seaward with Airborne early warning and control units. This was done by equipping two wings of Lockheed RC-121 Warning Star aircraft, the 551st Airborne Early Warning and Control Wing, based at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, and the 552nd AEWCW, based at McClellan Air Force Base, California, one wing stationed on each coast. The RC-121s, EC-121s and Texas Towers, it was believed, would contribute to extending contiguous east-coast radar coverage some 300 to 500 miles seaward. In terms of the air threat of the 1950s, this meant a gain of at least 30 extra minutes warning time of an oncoming bomber attack.[24] ADC's Operation Tail Wind on 11–12 July tested its augmentation plan that required Air Training Command interceptors participate in an air defense emergency. A total of seven ATC bases actively participated in the exercise, deploying aircraft and aircrews and supporting the ADC radar net.[25] As the USAF prepared to deploy the Tactical Air Command E-3 Sentry in the later 1970s, active-duty units were phased out EC-121 operations by the end of 1975. All remaining EC-121s were transferred to the Air Force Reserve, which formed the 79th AEWCS at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida in early 1976. The active duty force continued to provide personnel to operate the EC-121s on a 24-hour basis, assigning Detachment 1, 20th Air Defense Squadron to Homestead AFB as associate active duty crews to fly the Reserve-owned aircraft. Besides monitoring Cuban waters, these last Warning Stars also operated from NAS Keflavik, Iceland. Final EC-121 operations ended in September 1978.

Interceptor Aircraft

ADC had four day-type fighter squadrons (FDS) in 1946, and the ADC interceptor force grew to ninety-three (93) active Air Force fighter interceptor squadrons, seventy-six (76) Air National Guard fighter interceptor squadrons, several Naval fighter squadrons, USAF and USN airborne early warning squadrons, radar squadrons, training squadrons and numerous support units that have played important roles in our nation's defense.[22]

The first ADC interceptor, the P-61 Black Widow did not have the capabilities to engage the Soviet Tu-4 bomber. Its successor, the F-82 Twin Mustang, was even more disappointing. It took a long time to get into production and did not perform well in inclement weather.[26][27]

The early jet fighters, such as the F-80 Shooting Star and F-84 Thunderjet, lacked all-weather capability and were deemed useless for air defense purposes. Much hope was placed on two jet-powered interceptors, the XP-87 Blackhawk and the XP-89 Scorpion. (Designations changed to XF-87 and XF-89.) They, in their turn, proved to be inadequate. The XF-87 was cancelled and the Scorpion had to undergo extensive redesign.[28][29]

The first-generation jets gave way to all-weather dedicated interceptor jets. The F-94 Starfire was pressed into service as an "interim" interceptor. North American in 1949 pushed an interceptor version of the Sabre, the F-86D. Despite the demands its complexity made upon a single pilot, the F-86D was backed by senior Air Force officials. Some 2,504 would be built and it would in time be the most numerous interceptor in the Air Defense Command fleet, with more than 1,000 in service by the end of 1955[30]

The F-86D was not ideal, however, for its afterburner consumed a great deal of fuel in getting it to altitude, and the pilot was overburdened by cockpit tasks. The F-89D was modified to accept AIM-4 Falcon guided missiles (F-89H) and AIR-2 Genie atomic warhead rockets (F-89J) as armament. The F-86D was modified (F-86L) to include an FDDL SAGE data link that permitted automatic ground control. The F-86L and F-89H became available in 1956, the F-89J in 1957.[30]

The first of the Century Series supersonic interceptors was the F-102A Delta Dagger in 1956, followed by the F-104A Starfighter in 1958. The F-101B Voodoo and F-106 Delta Dart were first received by ADC during the first half of 1959. By 1960, the ADC interceptor force was composed of the F-101, F-104, F-106, and the F-102.[31]

Artist's impression of the North American XF-108 Rapier

The North American F-108 Rapier was the first proposed successor to the F-106. It was to be capable of Mach 3 performance and was intended to serve as a long-range interceptor that could destroy attacking Soviet bombers over the poles before they could get near US territory. It was also to serve as the escort fighter for the XB-70 Valkyrie Mach-3 strategic bomber, also to be built by North American. The Air Force expected that the first F-108A would be ready for service by early 1963. An order for no less than 480 F-108s was anticipated.

However, by mid-1959, the Air Force was already beginning to experience some doubts about the high cost of the Rapier program. The primary strategic threat from the Soviet Union was now perceived to be its battery of intercontinental ballistic missiles instead of its force of long-range bombers. Against intercontinental ballistic missiles, the F-108A interceptor would be completely useless. In addition, the Air Force was increasingly of the opinion that unmanned intercontinental ballistic missiles could accomplish the mission of the B-70 Valkyrie/F-108 Rapier combination much more effectively and at far lower cost. Consequently, the F-108A project was cancelled in its entirety on 23 September 1959, before any prototypes could be built.

One of the three Lockheed YF-12A prototypes had Air Defense Command markings (vertical stabilizer nearest center) during 1963 Edwards testing by AFSC's 4786th TS. Using the AN/ASG-18 from the F-108 Rapier program and Falcon missile developed for the F-108A, the Mach 3 interceptor was funded by Congress with $90 million for a 14 May 1965 USAF order of 93 F-12B aircraft (cancelled by SECDEF).

In 1968, ADCOM began the phaseout of the F-101 and F-102 interceptors from active duty units.

  1. ^ a b c d e Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). "Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960" (45MB pdf). General Histories (Office of Air Force History). ISBN . Retrieved 2011-09-26. "When ADC had moved to Ent Air Force Base in January 1951, COC facilities were located in an office building and comprised [sic] of a latrine with the plumbing removed and part of a hallway."
  2. ^ a b c d "Chapter I: Mission, Command, Organization, and Resources" ( transcription of Staff Working Paper). Analysis of the Costs of the Administrations Strategic Defense Initiative 1985-1989 (Report). Congressional Budget Office. May 1984. . Retrieved 2014-06-24.
  3. ^ Ulsamer, Edgar (August 1982). "Space Command: Setting the Course for the Future".  
  4. ^ a b Smith, John Q.; Byrd, David A (c. 1991). Forty Years of Research and Development at Griffis Air Force Base: June 1951 – June 1991 (Report). Borky, Col. John M (Foreword). Rome Laboratory. Retrieved 2014-03-10.
  5. ^ a b c  
  6. ^ a b c d e History of Strategic and Ballistic Missile Defense, 1945-1955: Volume I. Stations were undermanned, personnel lacked training, and repair and maintenance were difficult. This stop-gap system later would be replaced by a 75-station, permanent net authorized by Congress and approved by the President in 1949 … To be closer to ConAC, ARAACOM moved to Mitchel AFB, New York on 1 November 1950. 
  7. ^ "Mill Valley Air Force Station". Historic California Posts, Stations and Airfields.  
  8. ^ quotation from Grant p. 1, which cites "ltr, Hq AAF to CG CAF, subj: Directive, 14 Dec 44, in Hist CAF, 15 Dec 44-21 Mar 46, doc 47"
  9. ^ a b Grant, Dr C. L. (publication date tbd). The Development of Continental Air Defense to 1 September 1954 (Report). Research Studies Institute (USAF Historical Division). "Continental Air Forces, activated 12 December 1944, had been assigned the mission of continental air defense upon activation … 26 July - United States Air Force created as co-equal of the Army and Navy."
  10. ^ AAF Regulation 20-1, dated 15 September 1945 (cited by Grant)
  11. ^ quotation from Grant, which cites: "Ltr, Hq CAF to CG AAF, subj: Defensive Communications and Electronics in the Postwar Period, 21 Jul 45, in Case Hist AC&W System, doc 4."
  12. ^ quotation from Grant Ch. V--citation 31 cites "1st Ind (ltr, Hq CAF to CG AAF, subj: Defensive Communications and Electronics in the Postwar Period, 21 Jul 45), Hq AAF to CG CAF, 30 Aug 45, in Case Hist AC&W System, doc 4."
  13. ^ quotation from Grant Ch. V-citation 32 cites a letter to "Guided Missile Br [in the] AC/AS-4 R&E Div" and a Hq CAF letter: "R&R AC/AS-3, Guided Missiles Div to AC/AS-4 R&E Div, attn: Guided Missiles Br, subj: Military Characteristics of an Air Defense System, 23 Jan 46, in DRB War Plans Miscellaneous National Defense 1946-47, v2; ltr, Hq CAF to CG AAF, subj: Radar Defense Report for Continental United States, 28 Jan 46 in Case Hist AC&W System, doc 9." NOTE: Grant's text & citation indicate the Guided Missile Branch was in the HQ AAF Plans organization (Air Materiel Command had not yet been activated from its predecessors.)
  14. ^ Grant Ch. V citation 33
  15. ^ a b c Leonard, Barry (pdf created 15 July 2008) [c. 1974]. History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense ( PDF – also available at Google Books). Vol II, 1955-1972. Fort McNair: Center for Military History.  
  16. ^ Grant p. 76 cites "ADS HS-9, Organization and Responsibility for Air Defense, March 1946-September 1955"
  17. ^ subj: Development of Radar Equipment for Detecting and Countering Missiles of the German A-4 type,   (cited by Schaffel, p. 314)
  18. ^ a b c Winkler, David F; Webster, Julie L (June 1997). Searching the Skies: The Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense Radar Program (Report). Champaign, IL: U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories. LCCN 97020912. Retrieved 2013-04-23. ""BUIC II radar sites would be capable of incorporating data feeds from other radar sectors directly onto their radar screens. "
  19. ^ "Chapter II: American Strategy for Air and Ballistic Missile Defense". History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense, 1945–1955: Volume I. pp. 37–68. 
  20. ^ "Montauk AFS History". Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  21. ^ author . Retrieved 2013-08-31. "On 24 July 1945, the 206th was redesignated the 63rd AAFBU (RBS) and three weeks later was moved to Mitchell Field, New York, and placed under the command of the Continental Air Force."
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Johnson, Mildred W (31 December 1980) [February 1973 original by Cornett, Lloyd H. Jr]. A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 - 1980.  
  23. ^ a b Wainstein, L. (June 1975). The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning: Part One (1945-1953) (Report). Institute for Defense Analyses. pp. 1-138. "In September 1956…the JCS transferred responsibility for the air defense systems in Alaska and the Canadian Northeast from the unified commands in those areas to CONAD."
  24. ^ Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star
  25. ^ A Brief History of Keesler AFB and the 81st Training Wing (Report). A-090203-089. Retrieved 2013-07-08. "HQ USAF decided effective 20 October to assign ATC responsibility for supporting Air Defense Command (ADC). All three of ATC's interceptor training bases had air defense commitments. Moody maintained two combat-ready aircraft and crews on five-minute active air alert as ADC augmentation forces. Tyndall had a requirement to deploy 16 combat-ready F-86D aircraft and to maintain 16 others in a 4-hour readiness state in the event of an emergency. Peirin maintained an ADC defense squadron manned with ATC aircraft and instructor pilots as part of the active air alert force."
  26. ^ Baugher - Northrop P-61 Black Widow
  27. ^ Baugher - North American P/F-82 Twin Mustang
  28. ^ Curtiss XP-87/XF-87 Blackhawk Baugher - Curtiss XP-87/XF-87 Blackhawk
  29. ^ Baugher - Northrop F-89 Scorpion
  30. ^ a b Baugher - North American F-86D Sabre
  31. ^ USAF Aerospace Defense Command publication, The Interceptor, January 1979 (Volume 21, Number 1).
  32. ^ Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (reprint ed.). Office of Air Force History.  
  33. ^ a b c d e f g Mikesh, Robert C. Martin B-57 Canberra: The Complete Record.Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1995. ISBN 0-88740-661-0.
  34. ^ Gibson, James (2000), Nuclear Weapons of the United States: An Illustrated History, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd ISBN 978-0-7643-0063-9.
  35. ^ FM 44-1: U. S. Army Air Defense Employment (field manual) (FM44-1). available at Army History and Heritage Center, Carlisle PA: Headquarters,  
  36. ^ a b Cite NORAD Historical Summary [1] |year=1956-7 |period=July–June |quote="On 1 July 1957, the civilian contractors said the [DEW] line was in an "operational state," which they defined as meaning: "The Line would function as an operational system from 1 July exactly as it would when it ffiec~an Air Force responsibility. During the 1 July-3l July period, it would remain the responsibility of WEC [but] operational limitations of the sectors were numerous: landline tie-ins to CONAD's combat operations center were not installed; the rearward UHF and VHF scatter communications systems still required considerable testing … communications circuits to the AMIS facilities had not been cJnnected to their AR'm centers, nor were the AMIS facilities in the AR'm centers ready; the supply depot being constructed at Frobisher had not been completed … In June 1957, it was reported that all military personnel were in-place. On 12 June, some 675 people were on the line with 705·expected to be in-place by 1 July 1957. '!he personnel were receiving OJT with the assistance or WEC. …the efficiency or the "radicians" was expected to be poor until they had gained surficient experience and training. … CONAD was also opposed to the identification procedures outlined in the USAF-RCAF Operations Plan on 1 June 1956. … DEWPO (Distant Early Warning Project Office) … ADC also succeeded NEAC in the responsibilities it held tor supporting and running the DEW line stations in eastern Canada and Greenland.5"
  37. ^
  38. ^ CONAD regulation 55-8 on 1 March 1957 (cited by CONAD Historical Summary July 1956-June 1957)
  39. ^ a b Cite NORAD Historical Summary |version=1959 |period=January–June |accessdate=2013-04-30 "Project MADRE (Magnetic Drum Radar Equipment)."
  40. ^ a b Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1958 |period=January–June |quote=NORAD looked at the Zl portion ot the BMEWS not only as an integral portion ot the [Wizard missile] system, but as the heart of the entire ballistic missile defense system.
  41. ^ NORAD BMEWS and AICBM System Display (Report). June 30, 1958. (cited by 1958 NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary, Jan-Jun)
  42. ^
  43. ^ Del Papa, Dr. E. Michael; Warner, Mary P (October 1987). A Historical Chronology of the Electronic Systems Division 1947-1986 (Report). Retrieved 2012-07-19.
  44. ^ Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1963 |period=January–July
  45. ^ Model Radar Cross Section Data (Report). BLDG 116-20, RCA, Moorestown NJ: Detachment 3, 9th Aerospace Defense Division. 31 May 1963-Revised [10 January 1963]. Retrieved 2014-07-04.
  46. ^ a b c Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1965 |period=July–December |accessdate=date tbd
  47. ^ Adams, Benson D. (1971). Ballistic Missile Defense. New York: American Elsevier Publishing. pp. 29, 33.  (cited by Leonard p. 113)
  48. ^ a b Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1964 |period=July–December
  49. ^ Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1966 |period=January–June
  50. ^ a b Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1965 |period=January–June


Designated and activated as NORAD Combat Operations Center, 21 April 1976
Assigned to Cheyenne Mountain Complex City, Colorado
Assigned to Aerospace Defense Command, 21 April 1976
Re-designated ADCOM CONIC, 30 June 1976
Transferred to Tactical Air Command, 1 October 1979
  • Aerospace Defense Command Combat Operations Center (COC)
Organized at Tyndall AFB, Florida, 31 October 1967
Assigned to Air Defense Command
Transferred to Tactical Air Command, 1 October 1979
  • Air Defense Weapons Center
Activated tbd
Redesignated a Direct Reporting Unit of USAF as Aerospace Defense Center, 1 December 1979[2]
  • Air Force Element, NORAD/ADCOM (AFENA)


Air Defense Sectors

Air Divisions


.Note: Assigned to Olmsted AFB, Pennsylvania, but never equipped or manned. Not to be confused with Eleventh Air Force, which was assigned to Alaskan Air Command

Air Forces

Activated by Continental Air Command on 1 September 1949 at Hamilton AFB, California
Re-assigned to Air Defense Command, 1 January 1951
Inactivated, 1 July 1960
Activated by Continental Air Command on 1 September 1949 at Mitchel AFB, New York
Moved to Stewart AFB and assigned to Air Defense Command on 1 January 1951
Inactivated, 1 January 1960
Activated on 1 March 1951 at Kansas City, Missouri
Moved to Grandview AFB, 10 March 1954
Station re-designated Richards-Gebaur AFB, 27 April 1952
Inactivated, 1 January 1960

Air Defense Forces


Became a specified command in 1975
Redesignated Aerospace Defense Command on 15 January 1968
Major Command inactivated on 31 March 1980
  • Reestablished as a major command, and organized, on 1 January 1951
Activated as a major command on 27 March 1946
Became a subordinate operational command of Continental Air Command on 1 December 1948
Discontinued on 1 July 1950
  • Established as Air Defense Command on 21 March 1946


ADCOM, as a specified command, continued as the United States component of NORAD, but the major air command was inactivated on 31 March 1980. The unit designation of the MAJCOM reverted to the control of the Department of the Air Force.[22]

  • On 1 December 1979 missile warning and space surveillance assets were transferred to Strategic Air Command. On the same date the Aerospace Defense Center, a Direct Reporting Unit, was established from the remnants of ADCOM headquarters[22]
  • On 1 October 1979 ADCOM atmospheric defense resources (interceptors, warning radars, and associated bases and personnel) were transferred to Tactical Air Command, being placed under Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC). which was established compatible to a Numbered Air Force under TAC. With this move many Air National Guard units that had an air defense mission also came under the control of TAC. ADTAC was headquartered at North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ent AFB Colorado. In essence, Tactical Air Command became the old Continental Air Command. On the same date, electronic assets went to the Air Force Communications Service (AFCS).[22]

In early 1977 strong Congressional pressure to reduce management "overhead", and the personal conviction of the USAF Chief of Staff that substantial savings could be realized without a reduction in operational capability, moved the final "reorganization" of ADCOM to center stage. Two years of planning followed, but by late 1979 the Air Force was ready to carry it through. It was conducted in two phases:[22]

Emblem of Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC)


Continental Air Command was disestablished on 1 July 1975 and Aerospace Defense Command became a specified command by direction of the JCS. Reductions and reorganizations continued into the last half of the 1970s, but while some consideration was given to closing down the major command headquarters altogether and redistributing field resources to other commands, such a move lacked support in the Air Staff.[22]

The changing emphasis in the threat away from the manned bomber and to the ballistic missile brought reorganization and reduction in aeropace defense resources and personnel and almost continuous turmoil in the management structure. The headquarters of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) and ADC were combined on 1 July 1973. Six months later in February 1973, ADC was reduced to 20 fighter squadrons and a complete phaseout of air defense missile batteries.[22]

BOMARC, for example, was dropped from the weapons inventory, and the F-101 and F-102 passed from the regular Air Force inventory into the National Guard. To save funds and manpower, drastic reductions were made in the number of long range radar stations, the number of interceptor squadrons, and in the organizational structure. By 1968 the DOD was making plans to phase down the current air defense system and transition to a new system which included an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), Over-the-Horizon Backscatter (OTH-B) radar, and an improved F-106 interceptor aircraft.[22]

As the space mission grew the command changed its name, effective 15 January 1968, to Aerospace Defense Command, or ADCOM. Under ADCOM, emphasis went to systems for ballistic missile detection and warning and space surveillance, and the atmospheric detection and warning system, which had been in an almost continuous state of expansion and improvement since the 1950s, went into decline.[22]

ADC's Consolidated Command. Control and Communications Program, FY 1965-1972[46] was an outgrowth of a 196x "ADC-NORAD PAGE Study" for replacing SAGE/BUIC with a Primary Automated Ground Environment (PAGE) .[48] The program with a Joint DOD/FAA National Airspace System (NAS)[49] resulted with DOD/FAA agreements for a common aircraft surveillance system,[50] with the FAA "to automate its new National Airspace System (NAS) centers".[46] ADC estimated its portion "would cost about $6 million, with annual operating, maintenance, and communication costs about $3.5 million"[50] ("the first BUIC III was set to begin in April 1967 at Z-50, Saratoga Springs".)[48]

Consolidated C3

After claiming in March 1958 that "the Army's ZEUS did not have the growth potential to handle possible enemy evasion decoy and countermeasure tactics", the USAF similarly identified by early 1959 that its planned Wizard missile was "not cost effective" against ICBM warheads.[47]—the Army Zeus deployed successors against ICBMs (SAFEGUARD System, 1975-6) and space vehicles (Johnston Atoll, 1962-75). After tests of the 1959 High Virgo (at Explorer 5), 1959 Bold Orion (Explorer 6), and 1963 Project 505 (Nike Zeus) anti-satellite tests (the latter's nuclear burst destroyed a satellite), the Air Force Systems Command ASM-135 ASAT collided with a satellite in 1984.

The 1966 20th Surveillance Squadron began ADC's phased array operations with the Eglin AFB Site C-6 Project Space Track radar (the Eglin phased array's IOC was in 1969, and the North Dakota CMEWS "began passing" PARCS phased array data to NORAD in 1977 after being "modified for the ADCOM mission".[2]

The 9th ADD established the temporary 1962 "26th, 28th, 29th, and 73d Air Divisions into four air forces."[46]

ADC's BMEWS Central Computer and Display Facility was built as an austere network center (instead of for coordinating anti-ICBM fire) which "at midnight on 30 September I960…achieved initial operational capability" (IOC). On 1 July 1961 for space surveillance, ADC took over the Laredo Test Site and the Trinidad Air Station from RADC.[4] The "1st Aero" cadre at the Hanscom AFB NSSCC moved 496L System operations in July 1961 to Ent's "SPADATS Center"[15] in the annex of building P4. Operational BMEWS control of the Thule Site J RCA AN/FPS-50 Radar Sets transferred from RCA to ADC on January 5, 1962 (the 12MWS activated in 1967.) By 30 June 1962, integration of ADC's BMEWS CC&DF and the SPADATS Center was completed at Ent AFB,[43] and the Air Forces Iceland transferred from Military Air Transport Service to ADC on 1 July 1962.

Missile warning and space surveillance

By 30 June 1958, the Zone of the Interior (ZI) facility for anti-ICBM processing that was planned for ADC to coordinate at Ent AFB the ABM missile fire was considered "the heart of the entire [planned] ballistic missile defense system[40] (conceived to have Nike Zeus[41] and Wizard missiles.) On 19 October 1959, HQ USAF assigned ADC the "planning responsibility" for eventual operations of the Missile Defense Alarm System to detect ICBM launches with infrared sensors on space vehicles.[42]

The military installations, e.g., GATR stations for vectoring manned interceptors as well as BOMARC missile launch complexes with nearby GAT Facilities. On 20 December 1958 NORAD approved the "USAF ADC Plan" which included 10 Super Combat Centers (SCCs) in underground bunkers to replace 5 above-ground Combat Centers remaining to be built.[39] Modification of FAA radars to the ARSR-1A configuration (Amplitron, "antenna gear box modification", etc.) were to be complete by November 1960 (e.g., at the Fort Heath radar station)[40] and all 3 Texas Towers were in-service by April 1959 with ADC detachments/radars on offshore platforms near the New England coast, and the Continental Air Defense Integration North schedule for gap-filler radars included those for "P-20F, London, Ontario; C-4-C, Brampton, Ontario; C-5-C, Mt Carleton, New Brunswick; and C-6-D, Les Etroits. Quebec"—in the spring of 1959, ADC requested the Air Defense Systems Integration Division to study accelerating the scheduled 1962 deployment of those 4 sites.[39] After the planned SCCs were cancelled in 1960, the SAGE System was augmented by the "pre-SAGE semiautomatic intercept system" for Backup Interceptor Control as at North Bend AFS in February 1962 (BUIC II first at North Truro AFS in 1966.)

ADC's 64th AD military personnel were assigned to main stations of the 1957 DEW Line and annually inspected auxiliary/intermediate DEW stations maintained by the "DEW M&O Contractor[36]" (the White Alice Communications System linked ADC aircraft with DEW Line radars.) On 1 March 1957 CONAD reduced the number of ADC interceptor squadrons on alert for the Air Defense Identification Zone.[38] "At the end of 1957, ADC operated 182 radar stations…32 had been added during the last half of the year as low-altitude, unmanned gap-filler radars. The total consisted of 47 gap-filler stations, 75 Permanent System radars, 39 semimobile radars, 19 Pinetree stations,…1 Lashup[-era radar and a] single Texas Tower".[1]:223 ADC subsequently became a CONAD component of NORAD, for which the international agreement was signed on 12 May 1958 (RCAF officers agreed NORAD's "primary purpose would be…early warning and defense for SAC's retaliatory forces.")[1]:252

ADC'a Air Force Element), separated command of ADC from CINCONAD (LGen Atkinson became ADC commander on 22 September), and in 1957 added Alaskan Air Command and Northeast Air Command components to ADC[23]—former NEAC installations in a smaller "Canadian Northeast Area" were transferred under control of Royal Canadian Air Force ADC[36] (e.g., the Hall Beach "FOX.MAIN" DEW Line station constructed 1955-1957[37]--cf. Canada's Hopedale stations of the 1954 Pinetree Line and 1957 Mid-Canada Line.)

From 1 September 1954 until 1975, ADC was a component of the unified Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) along with the Army's ARAACOM (1957 ARADCOM) and until 1965, the Navy's NAVFORCONAD. The USAF as the executive CONAD agent initially used ADC's:

Continental defense

The "war room" of the Chidlaw Building's Combined Operations Center took over command center operations in 1963 from the nearby Ent AFB "main battle control center" (screens show missile impact ellipses for an exercise.)
ADC squadrons at Thule Site J and Clear AFS used each AN/FPS-50 to sweep 2 radar beams each ~1° in azimuth x 3.5° elevation (illustrated much less thick). Azimuth sweeping created a "Lower Fan" centered at 3.5° elevation and "Upper Fan" at 7° (both illustrated much higher) with "revisit time of 2 sec" for ICBM detection.
ADC supported 4-story SAGE blockhouses which "were hardened [for] overpressures of" 5 psi (34 kPa).[1]:264 The blockhouse's "NORAD sector direction center (NSDC) [also had] air defense artillery director (ADAD) consoles [and an Army] ADA battle staff officer". The NSDC automatically communicated crosstelling of "SAGE reference track data" to/from adjacent sectors' DCs and to 10 Nike Missile Master AADCPs.[35]

The 134th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron, Vermont Air National Guard, retired its last EB-57 in 1983, and the operational use of the B-57 Canberra ended.[33]

Units operating these specially equipped aircraft were designated Defense Systems Evaluation Squadrons (DSES). The 4713th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron was stationed for training in the Northeast. The 4713th also deployed frequently to USAFE in West Germany for training of NATO forces. The other was the 4677th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron, which concentrated on Fighter Interceptor Squadron training for units in the Western United States. In 1974, the 4713th DSES was inactivated and its EB-57s were divided between two Air National Guard units and the 4677th DSES was re-designated as the 17th Defense Systems Evaluation Squadron. This unit was inactivated in July 1979 and was the last to fly B-57s in the active duty USAF. It shared the Defense Systems Evaluation mission with the Kansas and Vermont Air National Guard. Defense Systems Evaluation operations were also carried out by the 6091st Reconnaissance Squadron, Yokota AB, Japan; later the 556th Reconnaissance Squadron and moved to Kadena AB, Okinawa. EB-57s were also deployed to Alaskan Air Command, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, frequently.[33]

Considerable realism would be generated into these simulated aggressor attack missions being flown by the B-57 crews. Often several EB-57s were used to form separate tracks and provide a coordinated jamming attack to complicate the testing. When inside the range of the GCI radar, and in anticipation of interception, chaff was dispensed to confuse the defense force and electronic pulses to jam radar signals were turned on. It was up to the defending interceptors and GCI stations to sort out the correct interception.[33]

"Faker", or simulated target aircraft flew mock penetrations into air defense sectors to exercise GDI stations, Air Defense Direction Centers, and interceptor squadrons. Initially using modified B-25 Mitchell and B-29 Superfortress bombers, the aircraft would fly attack profile missions at unexpected, random times and attempt to evade coverage by flying at low altitudes and randomly flying in different directions to confuse interceptors. The aircraft were modified to carry electronic countermeasures (ECM) gear to attempt to confuse radar operators. In 1957, the propeller-driven aircraft were phased out and replaced by Martin B-57 medium bombers which were being phased out of Tactical Air Command. Initially RB-57As from reconnaissance units were modified to have their former camera bays refitted to carry out the latest ECM systems to confuse the defenders. Wing racks, originally designed for bombs, now carried chaff dispensers and the navigator position was replaced with an Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO). The modified B-57s were designated as EB-57 (E for special electronic installation).[33]

Martin EB-57E 55-4241 4577th DSES flying over the Great Salt Lake, Utah about 1970. Retired 30 July 1979
See also: List of United States Air Force defense systems evaluation squadrons

Defense Systems Evaluation

Interceptor Missiles (IMs)
The Bomarc Missile Program delivered the first CIM-10 Bomarc supersonic surface-to-air missile to ADC during September 1959 at Fort Dix's BOMARC Base No. 1 near the missile launch control center on McGuire AFB (groundbreaking for McGuire's Air Defense Direction Center to house the IBM AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central for Bomarc ground-controlled interception had been in 1957.) To ensure probabiliy of kill before bombers could drop their weapons, the AN/FSQ-7 used the Automatic Target and Battery Evaluation (ATABE) to determine which bombers/formations to assign to which manned interceptor base (e.g., using nuclear air-to-air missiles), which to assign to Bomarcs (e.g., with W-40 nuclear warheads) and if available, which to assign to the region's Nike Army Air Defense Command Post (that also had ATABE software for efficiently coordinating fire from multiple Hercules missile batteries.) Bomarc missiles bases were along the east and west coasts of North America and the central areas of the continent (e.g., Suffolk County Missile Annex was on Long Island, New York.) The supersonic Bomarc missiles were the first long-range anti-aircraft missiles in the world, and the longer range BOMARC B models required less time after erected until they could be launched.[34]
October 1960 SAMs near the BOMARC Missile Accident Site after the 7 June 1960 BOMARC nuclear accident. BOMARC alert status ended in 1972, e.g., ADC first closed a BOMARC B complex on 31 December 1969.

In order to cover combat losses in the Vietnam War caused by two major ground explosions, twelve B-57Es were reconfigured as combat-capable B-57Bs at the Martin factory in late 1965 and were deployed to Southeast Asia for combat bombardment operations. Six other B-57Es were converted to RB-57E "Patricia Lynn" tactical reconnaissance aircraft in 1966 during the Vietnam War, operating from Tan Son Nhut Air Base until 1971.[33]

To provide challenges for interceptors, The B-57Es towed styroforam, bomb-shaped radar reflectant targets. These could be towed at higher altitudes than the high-drag 45' banners but hits could still be scored on them. By 1960, the rocket firing interceptors were giving way to F-102 Delta Dagger interceptors firing heat-seeking AIM-4 Falcon air-to-air missiles. This made the target towing mission of the B-57E obsolete, and the B-57Es were adapted to electronic countermeasures and faker target aircraft (EB-57E) (see below).[33]

The gunnery schools were located at Mojave Desert in Southern California. Additional units were located at Biggs AFB, near El Paso, Texas (1st TTS) and the 4756th TTS was located at Tyndall AFB, Florida to support the Fighter Weapons Center located there. ADC also supported overseas training at Johnson AB, Japan (6th TTS). From Johnson AB, B-57Es deployed to Clark AB, Philippines; Andersen AFB, Guam, Naha AB, Okinawa and Itazuke AB, Misawa AB and Yokota AB, all in Japan for training of the interceptor squadrons assigned to those bases. The 6th TTS was inactivated by late 1957 and the Canberra trainers were designated a flight of the 8th Bombardment Squadron at Johnson AB. In Europe, USAFE supported a squadron of B-57E gunnery trainers at Wheelus AB, Libya where European-based interceptors deployed for "live firing" over the vast desert range there.[33]

B-57E Canberra dedicated Air Defense Command target towing aircraft were used for training of F-86D Sabre, F-94C Starfire, and F-89D Scorpion interceptors firing 2.75-inch Mk 4/Mk 40 Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets. Due to the nature of air-to-air weapon training requiring a large amount of air space, only a few locations were available for practice ranges. ADC assigned these aircraft to bases close to these large, restricted areas, and fighter-interceptor squadrons deployed to these bases for this type of "hot fire" training which took place in these ranges.

B-57E 55-4277 target towing aircraft, 8th Bomb Squadron, Yokota AB Japan, 1958. Note the bright orange paint on the upper fuselage and wings

Interceptor gunnery training


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