Continental Air Defense Command

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Continental Air Defense Command
1958 Ent AFB - NORAD HQ.png
Until 1963, CONAD HQ was located in the 4-story former National Methodist Sanitorium building (background, behind sign)
ActiveSeptember 1, 1954 – June 30, 1975
TypeUnified Combatant Command
RoleAir defense
Part ofUnited States Department of Defense
Garrison/HQColorado Springs, CO

Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was a Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense, tasked with air defense for the Continental United States. It comprised Army, Air Force, and Navy components. It included Army Project Nike missiles (Ajax and Hercules) anti-aircraft defenses and USAF interceptors (manned aircraft and BOMARC missiles). The primary purpose of continental air defense during the CONAD period was to provide sufficient attack warning of a Soviet bomber air raid to ensure Strategic Air Command could launch a counterattack without being destroyed. CONAD controlled nuclear air defense weapons such as the 10 kiloton W-40 nuclear warhead on the CIM-10B BOMARC.[1] The command was disestablished in 1975, and Aerospace Defense Command became the major U.S. component of North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).


As the new U.S. Air Force was being established in 1947, consideration of a joint command for air defense began.[2] After the USAF initiated the development of the "1954 interceptor" (WS-201) to counter expected Soviet bomber advances,[3] the Army deployed M-33 Fire Control for AA artillery in 1950. A proposal for a joint/unified command for air defense was initiated (and failed) in 1950.[4] The new Air Defense Command (ADC) at Ent AFB, and Army Antiaircraft Command (ARAACOM) staffed in the nearby Antlers Hotel (Colorado) was established in 1951. The same year, the Priority Permanent System began replacing the post-war Lashup Radar Network.

A direct telephone line was installed in mid-July 1950 between CONAC headquarters and the 26th Air Division HQ at Roslyn Air Warning Station. This marked "the beginning of the Air Force air raid warning system". When the Korean War broke out, the USAF established a direct telephone line between the Air Force Command Post in the Pentagon and the White House.[5]:133 By 1953, continental air defenses included assets of five organizations, responsible to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff:[2]

USAF operational control[edit]

The United States Department of Defense agreed that the USAF would assume operational control of all U.S. air defense weapons during an attack. However, the Army complained the USAF command and control network (e.g., the 1950 Strategic Operational Control System (SOCS) telephone/teletype system was "insufficiently reliable."[6] In response to the "enemy capabilities to inflict massive damage on the continental United States by surprise air attack",[7] the National Security Council formulated President Dwight Eisenhower's "The New Look" strategy in 1953-54.[4] To minimize the Soviet threat, the New Look strategy aimed to allow Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers "to get into the air not be destroyed on the ground" to make massive retaliation possible.[8][5][9] Thus the major purpose of air defense was not actually to shoot down enemy bombers, but merely gain time for SAC to respond.


By October 16, 1953, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested the services' input regarding formation of a joint air defense command,[2]:112 but the USAF Chief of Staff on December 16, 1953 "concluded that no change was needed or advisable".[7] Under "political pressures for greater unity and effectiveness in the national air defense system",[2] the Chairman--a Navy Admiral—disagreed with the USAF and in January 1954 "recommended that the JCS approve in principle the establishment of a joint air defense command":[10]

"In an era when enemy capabilities to inflict massive damage on the continental United States by surprise air attack are rapidly increasing, I consider that there is no doubt whatsoever as to the duty of the Joint Chiefs to establish a suitable "joint" command…. The command will be composed of forces of each of the services and provide for the coordinated accomplishment of functions of each of the services for the air defense of the United States."

The command was planned to include:[11]

  • all air forces regularly assigned to the air defense of the United States
  • land based early warning stations and sea-based forces assigned to contiguous radar coverage;
  • antiaircraft forces of the Army involved in the permanent air defense of the United States
  • the exercise of operational control of Army and Marine Corps units "which can temporarily augment the air defense forces in event of emergency."
  • CINCLANT/CINCPAC and CINCAL/CINCNE responses as needed from their "seaward extensions of the early warning system…and early warning installations in Alaska and the NE Command".

Operational control[edit]

The Joint Chiefs directed the establishment of CONAD on August 2, 1954. The Secretary of Defense announced the command's formation publicly later in the month to integrate "the air defense capabilities of the three military departments into an air defense system responsible to the control of one military commander" (Wainstein).[2]

CONAD was established effective September 1, 1954, primarily to defend the continental United States against air attack. It was also tasked to support U.S. commanders in the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean, Alaska, Northeast, and of Strategic Air Command in their missions to the maximum extent consistent with its primary mission. ADC's commander, General Benjamin Chidlaw, became the first CINCONAD, and the USAF was designated as the executive agency. From 1954 to 1956, CONAD consisted of the USAF Air Defense Command, Army Antiaircraft Command, and the Naval Forces, Continental Air Defense Command (NAVFORCONAD). The USAF ADC Headquarters was additionally designated as Headquarters CONAD.

CONAD's operational control covered:[4][12]

  1. Direction of the tactical air battle
  2. Control of fighters
  3. Specifying the alert condition
  4. Stationing early warning units
  5. Deploying combat units of the command.

ADC's main battle control center was moved out of the former hallway/latrine in the Ent AFB headquarters building and into a new-built blockhouse in 1954.[2] At Ent, offices for both HQ CONAD and a new HQ NAVFORCONAD were prepared in the building with the ADC and ARAACOM HQs. NAVFORCONAD was placed under command of Rear Admiral Albert K. Morehouse.[4][13]

The Experimental SAGE Subsector received a prototype IBM computer in July 1955.[14][15] for development of a "national air defense network",[16] A late 1955 CONAD plan for USAF Semi-Automatic Ground Environment control of Army Nike missiles caused an interservice dispute[2] but later in 1956 the Secretary of Defense approved CONAD's plan for USAF units at computerized Army nuclear bunkers. The 1959 Missile Master Plan resolved the dispute to have separate Nike Hercules missile command posts in the bunkers. On February 13, 1956, CINCONAD advocated "an eventual combined organization…of the Air Defense Force of all countries and services in and adjacent to North America." December 1956 planning requested "six prime and 41 gap-tiller radars [to be] located in Mexico. By 1956, CONAD had designated 3 "SAC Base Complexes" to be defended: in the Northwestern United States, in a Montana-through-North Dakota area, and the largest in a nearly-triangular "South Central Area" from Minnesota to New Mexico to Northern Florida.[17]

1956 reorganization[edit]

On September 4, 1956, the JCS changed the Terms of Reference for CONAD to be "more in line [with] ..a joint task force" and separated command of the USAF Air Defense Command from CINCONAD. The CONAD staff were separated from the ADC HQ staff on October 1, 1956.[18][19] The JCS also transferred "the air defense systems in Alaska and the Canadian Northeast" from those unified commands to CONAD.[2] On January 1, 1957, CINCONAD placed the U.S. defenses in a geometric "Canadian Northeast Area" under the operational control of the Canadian Air Defence Command.[19]

In March 1957, CONAD said "that an adequate and timely defense system against the intercontinental ballistic missile was "the most urgent future CONAD requirement."[20] CONAD identified a requirement "for a defense against cruise and ballistic missiles launched from submarines or surface ships" on June 14, 1957[21] The 1957 Gaither Report identified "little likelihood of SAC's bombers surviving since there was no way to detect an incoming attack until the first [ICBM] warhead landed".[22] In keeping with these recommendations, the BMEWS General Operational Requirement was issued on November 7, 1957.

On 6 September 1957, CONAD advised all appropriate agencies that the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) was to be established at Ent Air Force Base effective 0001 Zulu 12 September. This would integrate the headquarters of CONAD and RCAF ADC. General Earle E. Partridge, the CONAD/ADC commander, became Commander-in-Chief of NORAD. At the same time, Canadian officers agreed that the command's primary purpose would be "early warning and defense for SAC's retaliatory forces."[5]:252

The CONAD blockhouse at Ent became a "master station" of the 1958 Alert Network Number 1, (ARDC's ADSMO was redesignated as the Air Defense Systems Integration Division on February 24, 1958.) Ground zero footage for CONAD was shot during the Operation Plowshare nuclear detonation.[23] When the ICBM threat had sufficiently developed, the June 1959 Continental Air Defense Program reduced the number of Super Combat Centers to 7, then all were cancelled on March 18, 1960.[24] The Canadian nuclear bunker started at CFS North Bay was completed in 1963 with vacuum tube computers.

The NORAD/CONAD Combined Operations Center at the Chidlaw Building in Colorado Springs.

Space defense[edit]

CONAD was assigned "operational command" of the Space Detection and Tracking System (SPADATS) on November 7, 1960.[25] SPADATS included Project Space Track and NAVSPASUR sensors.[26] The "Improved Hercules system" for surface-to-air-missiles was first deployed in 1961, and in 1962 the command manned the alternate US command post (CONAD ALCOP) at Richards-Gebaur AFB. CONAD HQ moved from Ent AFB to the nearby Colorado Springs' Chidlaw Building in 1963, where a new NORAD/CONAD "war room" (Combined Operations Center) with Iconorama was used until the under-construction Command Center and Missile Warning Center became operational at Cheyenne Mountain Complex in 1966. NORAD HQ moved to the Chidlaw Building on February 15, 1963. The CONAD and NORAD offices were consolidated on March 7, 1963.

CONAD agreed to allow the FAA to control military aircraft for "scramble, flight en route to target [enemy aircraft], and recovery" (handed off to military directors for actual intercept) effective February 1, 1964.[27] By January 12, 1965, CONAD had a "Space Defense Center Implementation Plan"[28] (in 1967 the 1st Aero moved Ent's Space Defense Center operations to Cheyenne Mountain Complex's Group III Space Defense Center.)[29][30] CONAD continued using the same name with "air defense" after Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) was designated the new USAF "space" command name in 1968 with most of CONAD's missile warning and space surveillance assets (cf. the 1959 Naval Space Surveillance System until transferred to the USAF in 2004).


BOMARC alerts ended in 1972, and the post-Vietnam war drawdown closed most CONUS NIKE missile sites during the 1974 Project Concise. At the very end of the command's existence, the SAFEGUARD ABM system was being deployed. It became operational on October 1, 1975.

CONAD was disestablished on June 30, 1975. General Lucius D. Clay Jr., the last commander, remained Commander-in-Chief of NORAD, and Aerospace Defense Command personnel manned combined NORAD/ADCOM staff organizations. ADCOM was broken up 1979-80 with interceptors transferring to Air Defense, Tactical Air Command, missile warning stations transferring to SAC (e.g., the new PAVE PAWS sites), electronics units transferring to the Air Force Communications Service (AFCS), and the NORAD/ADCOM "Air Force Element" forming the new Aerospace Defense Center.

External image
1956 & two 1954 organizational charts

Remaining ADCOM HQ functions continued as combined NORAD/ADCOM organizations, e.g., "HQ NORAD/ADCOM" J31 subsequently manned the Cheyenne Mountain Space Surveillance Center in the same room as the Missile Warning Center, separated by partitions. In 1982, the Aerospace Defense Center was incorporated into the new Air Force Space Command.


  1. ^ Maloney, Sean M. (2007). Learning to Love the Bomb: Canada's Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War (Google Books). Retrieved 2014-06-20.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Wainstein, L. (Project Leader) (June 1975). The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning, 1945-1972 (Report). Institute for Defense Analyses. After seven years of consideration, the JCS authorized the creation of a joint command to control air defense, directing in August 1954 the establishment at Colorado Springs of the jointly manned Continental Air Defense Command, under the USAF as executive agent.46 … In strategic air defense, the SAGE system of internetted, semiautomatic centers for warning, communications, and antiaircraft action was coming into full operation, and a new, modernized NORAD combat operations center was under construction.3 … the 1958 reorganization of the unified command structure, including the switch from the service "executive agent" system of command to the direct channel from the President and the Secretary of Defense through the JCS for operational direction of the forces.
  3. ^ McMullen, Richard F. (15 February 1980). History of Air Defense Weapons 1946–1962 (Report). Historical Division, Office of information, HQ Air Defense Command.
  4. ^ a b c d Leonard, Barry. History of Strategic and Ballistic Missile Defense (PDF). Volume I: 1945–1955. p. 31.
  5. ^ a b c Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960 (45MB pdf). General Histories (Report). Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-60-9. Retrieved 2011-09-26. President Truman's Executive Order of July 26 [1947] implementing the statute emphasized the Air Force's responsibility to "provide means for coordination of air defense among the services."84 … The day the war began, the U.S. Air Force Operations Staff set up an emergency command post on the fourth floor of the Pentagon to serve as a reception point for radio messages between Vandenberg and his FEAF commanders during Air Staff after-duty hours. In mid-July 1950, the installation of direct telephone lines between Whitehead's headquarters and the 26th Air Division's headquarters marked the beginning of the Air Force air raid warning system. It became a rudimentary national warning network in August when President Truman had a direct telephone line installed between the Air Force Pentagon post and the White House.2 … June 19, 1959, the Master Air Defense Plan. Key features of the plan included a reduction in BOMARC squadrons, cancellation of plans to upgrade the interceptor force, and a new austere SAGE program. In addition, funds were deleted for gap-filler and frequency-agility radars. … When ADC had moved to Ent Air Force Base in January 1951, COC facilities were located in an office building and consisted of a latrine with the plumbing removed and part of a hallway. A much improved 15,000-square-foot concrete block COC became operational on Ent in May 1954." NOTE: Schaffel's history uses the same name as "The Emerging Shield: The Air Defense Ground Environment," Air University Quarterly Review 8, no. 2 (spring 1956).
  6. ^ Source identified in Citation 4 at Wainstein[specify]
  7. ^ a b Radford, Admiral Arthur (January 1954) [approx.], Memorandum (cited and quoted by Wainstein p. 198-9)
  8. ^ Joint Chiefs of Staff summary[specify] (cited by Schaffel p. 194)
  9. ^ House of Commons of Canada transcript (quoted by Schaffel, p. 251 -- speaker not identified).
  10. ^ Memorandum from CJCS to JCS (CM 217-511 ), 15 Januarv 1954 (Citation 47 at Wainstein pp. 112, 136)
  11. ^ Memorandum from Chairman JCS to Chiefs of Staff, CM-47-54 15 January 1954, Subject: "Command Arrangements for the Air Defense of the United States" (Citation 5 at Wainstein pp. 199,262)
  12. ^ U.S. Army Air Defense School. Air Defense, an Historical Analysis: 1914–1962 (Report). Vol. III. p. 110. (Leonard p. 147 citation 306)
  13. ^ See also Guarding the Cold War Ramparts
  14. ^
  15. ^ Biweekly Report for 29 July 1955 (PDF) (minutes). Lincoln Laboratory Division 6. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  16. ^ "Overview". SAGE: The First National Air Defense Network. Retrieved 2013-05-08. the AN/FSQ-7…was developed, built and maintained by IBM. … In June 1956, IBM delivered the prototype of the computer to be used in SAGE.
  17. ^ Continental Air Defense Operations Plan (CADOP 56-66) submitted on 18 December 1956 and cited in Maloney's Learning to Love the Bomb
  18. ^ U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Terms of Reference for CINCONAD, Washington, D.C., 4 September 1956.
  19. ^ a b Continental Air Defense Command Historical Summary: July 1956 - June 1957 (PDF) (Report).
  20. ^ CONAD to C/S, USAF, "Defense Against Ballistic Missiles," 7 Mar 1951 (p. 89 citation 6 in CONAD's 1956-7 Historical Summary)
  21. ^ CONAD to C/S, USAF, "Continental Air Defense Requirements," 14 Jun 1951 (p. 89 citation 7 in CONAD's 1956-7 Historical Summary)
  22. ^ Freeman, Maj Steve (September 1997). "Visionaries, Cold War, hard work built the foundations of Air Force Space Command". "Guardian Magazine…funded Air Force newspaper". 5 (6: Special Anniversary Edition). p. 6.
  23. ^
  24. ^ Preface by Buss, L. H. (Director) (1 May 1960). North American Air Defense Command and Continental Air Defense Command Historical Summary: July–December 1959 (PDF) (Report). Directorate of Command History: Office of Information Services.
  25. ^ United States Air Force, Beyond Horizons
  26. ^ Temple, L. Parker. Shades of Gray: National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance. Retrieved 2014-06-19.
  27. ^
  28. ^ NORAD to ADC, "(U) NORAD/CONAD Space Defense Center Implementation Plan," 12 Jan 1965 (cited by Jan-Jun 1966 NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary)
  29. ^ [1961-1969 Historical reports][which?] (unidentified document). located at "Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB AL, AFHRA Microfilm reel KO363": 1st Aerospace Surveillance and Control Squadron.CS1 maint: location (link)
  30. ^ 9th Aerospace Defense Division (abstract) (Report). Ent Air Force Base. 1966. Retrieved 2012-09-02.