Aerospace Defense Command
- CONAD (all caps) redirects here; for
the Italian supermarket chain, see Conad
(upper and lower case)
was a major command of the United States Air Force
from 1946 to
1979. Its mission was to provide air defense of the United
World War II
World War II Air Defense Districts and
Numbered Air Forces.
The organization was created by the War Department
Air Defense Command
on February 26, 1940. As a
component of the U.S. First Army, its mission was to plan for and
execute the air defense of the continental United States.
During World War II
, the ADC operated
four distinct air defense districts within the US. These
The primary mission of these Air Districts initially was to fly
antisubmarine patrols. By the fall of 1942 these patrols, in
conjunction with naval operations, had succeeded in driving off the
German U-boat packs that had been taking such
a heavy toll of shipping in the western Atlantic Ocean. In addition, ADC flew patrols in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Caribbean Sea, and along the west coast of the United States.
The antisubmarine mission was turned over to the Navy
in 1943, and for the balance of the
war, these commands trained aircrews
overseas deployments to the various war theaters. Later, as the
threat of an attack by enemy forces on the US homeland diminished,
they were primarily engaged in replacement crew training.
The ADC Air District structure was abolished in April 1944 along
with Air Defense Command. The numbered air forces
and their training
mission was turned over to the USAAF Continental Air Forces
- Established as Air Defense Command on March
- Activated as a major command on March 27, 1946
- Became a subordinate operational command of Continental Air Command on December
- Discontinued on July 1, 1950
- Reestablished as a major command, and organized, on January 1,
- Redesignated Aerospace Defense Command on
January 15, 1968
- Inactivated on March 31, 1980.
Field , New
York, March 21, 1946
AFB, Colorado, January 1,
1951 – April 20, 1966
- Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, April 20,
1966 – March 31, 1980
Regions of ADC Air Defense Forces and
known Air Force Bases with ADC units, 1949 – 1960
Note: States containing ADC bases of Western & Central ADF and
Eastern & Central ADF identified as Central/Western and
Assigned to Olmsted
AFB, Pennsylvania, but never equipped or manned.
- First Air Force, March 21, 1946
– December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – December 31, 1969
- Second Air Force, June 6, 1946
– July 1, 1948
- Fourth Air Force, March 21,
1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – September 30, 1969
- Tenth Air Force, March 21, 1946
– December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – October 8, 1976
- Eleventh Air Force*, May 13, 1946 - 1 July 1948
- Fourteenth Air Force, March
21, 1946 – December 1, 1948; January 20, 1966 – October 8,
Not to be
confused with Eleventh Air Force
which was assigned to Alaskan Air
- March 1, 1951 – January 1, 1960
- September 1, 1949 – January 1, 1960
- September 1, 1949 – July 1, 1960
After January 1, 1960, the ADC Air Defense forces were replaced by
regional Air Defense Sectors assigned to various air divisions, to
which ADC allocated its CONUS forces. In addition, in 1962, ADC
assumed Icelandic defense mission from Military Air Transport
Divisions (Assigned to ADC)
- July 1, 1962 – October 1, 1979
- July 14, 1961 – July 1, 1968
- January 20 – April 1, 1966; November 19, 1969 – October 1,
- November 19, 1969 – October 1, 1979
- November 19, 1969 – October 1, 1979
- December 1, 1969 – October 1, 1979
- July 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966; December 1, 1969 – October 1,
- August 1, 1959 – April 1, 1966; December 1, 1969 – October 1,
- January 20 – April 1, 1966
- July 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966
- January 1, 1960 – April 1, 1966
- July 1, 1959 – April 1, 1966
- January 20 – April 1, 1966
- January 20 – April 1, 1966
- January 1, 1960 – July 1, 1961; January 20 – April 1, 1966
- January 20 – April 1, 1966
- January 20 – April 1, 1966
- January 20, 1966 – September 30, 1969
- December 1, 1969 – June 1, 1970
- April 1, 1957 – July 1, 1963
The second iteration of Air Defense Command
was established on March 21, 1946 as a component of the United States Army Air Forces
The mission of ADC was defined to provide for the air defense of
the United States. ADC was headquartered at Mitchel Army
As a result of limited budgets Air Defense Command was incorporated
into Continental Air Command
(ConAC) on December 1, 1948 and reduced to an operating agency.
This was the result of an effort by the new USAF to concentrate all
fighter forces deployed within the continental United States to
strengthen the air defense of the North American continent.
The air defense mission received much more attention as Cold War
tensions heightened. Following the
explosion of a nuclear weapon by the Soviet Union in August 1949, the Air Force issued requirements
for an operational air defense system by 1952.
threat of an airborne atomic attack by the Soviet Union with its
copy of the B-29
strategic bomber force to the separation
of Air Defense Command from ConAC, and its reestablishment as an
Air Force major command, effective January 1, 1951 to counter the
perceived Soviet threat. The reestablished Air Defense Command was
headquartered at Ent AFB, Colorado.
Convair F-106A-130-CO Delta Dart
Serial 59-0119 of the Air Defense Weapons Center, Tyndall AFB
This aircraft was retired in 1983, converted to a QF-106 Drone
and expended over the White Sands Missile Range near Holloman AFB,
NM on September 13, 1991.
The growth and development of the ADC air defense system grew
steadily throughout the Cold War
four day-type fighter squadrons (FDS) in 1946, the ADC interceptor
force grew to ninety-three (93) active Air Force fighter
interceptor squadrons, seventy-six (76) Air National Guard
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
Interceptor aircraft of Aerospace Defense Command were:
- Republic F-47D/N
- North American F-51D/H
- Northrop F-61C Black
With the end of World War II, large numbers of wartime
pistoned-engined fighters were allocated for air defense
The long range P-47N/P-51H models, developed for the invasion of Japan, were especially
well-suited for the air defense role and were used into the
mid-1950s by Air National Guard
Generally P-47s were based east of the Mississippi River, while P-51s were
stationed to the west.
The twin-engined P-61 night fighter was the first American aircraft
specifically designed from the outset for the night fighting role,
and with its long range was also well-suited for air defense.
On June 11, 1948, the newly-formed United States Air Force eliminated
the P-for-pursuit category and replaced it with
- North American F-82F/G
In 1948, the F and G night-fighter versions of the Twin Mustang
were placed in service with the Air Defense Command.
They were painted all-black and had flame-damped exhausts and
replaced the F-61 Black Widow by 1949.
It was anticipated that the service life of the Twin Mustang would
be relatively brief, since the F-82 was seen as only an interim
type, filling in the gap only until adequate numbers of jet
fighters could be made available.
In 1950, some units based in the United States were already
beginning to replace their Twin Mustangs with jets.
- Lockheed F-80 Shooting
In 1948, F-80Cs began to reach operational ADC units, the first
being the 57th Interceptor Group (64th, 65th, and 66th Squadrons)
based in Alaska.
However, during the Korean War the
introduction of the MiG-15 into Korean combat
On November 1, 1950 proved to be a nasty surprise.
It was soon apparent that the F-80C was no match for the swept-wing
MiG-15, being almost 100 mph slower than its Russian-built
F-80s were withdrawn from Korea and served in ADC units for a few
years before being sent to Air Force Reserve squadrons where they
were flown until the late 1950s.
- Lockheed F-94
Between 1950 and 1953, the F-94 played a vital role in the defense
of the continental United States from attack by nuclear-armed
Soviet Tu 4 bombers.
It was the only jet-powered all-weather interceptor available in
quantity at that time, and filled in a vital gap until more
advanced equipment could be provided.
- Republic F-84
Versions of the F-84 were used by ADC groups in the early 1950s,
however during the Korean War it was
found that the straight-winged F-84E was much too slow to match the
The total air-to-air score ended up as nine MiGs downed as opposed
to 18 Thunderjets lost, which gave the Thunderjet a 2 to 1
inferiority against the MiG-15.
- Northrop F-89
The Northrop F-89 Scorpion was one of the primary defenders of
North American airspace during the Cold
Production was authorized in January 1949, with the first
production F-89A entering USAF service in September 1950.
The final production model, the F-89H served with the ADC through
1959 and with the Air National Guard through 1969.
- North American F-86D/L
The F-86D was the interceptor version of the F-86 Sabre air
The F-86D was originally designated as the F-95A, however for
political reasons the designation of the F-95 was changed to F-86D
on July 24, 1950.
The F-86D entered ADC service in 1953 however it only saw active
ADC service for a few years.
The phaseout of the F-86D from the ADC began in August 1956, and
was essentially complete by April 1958.
As ADC F-86Ds were phased out, some of them were turned over to the
Air National Guard.
Many of the ANG's F-86Ds were quickly supplanted by F-86Ls, and by
June 1961, the F-86D no longer appeared on either the USAF or ANG
The F-86L was the designation given to late-1950s conversions of
existing USAF F-86Ds to use the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment
(SAGE) datalink system.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis
of 1962, six ANG F-86L squadrons were on alert.
The last F-86Ls were withdrawn from ANG service during the summer
- Convair F-102 Delta
The single-seat F-102 was ADC's first supersonic interceptor that
could exceed Mach 1 in level flight with area ruling and internally
carried Falcon and Genie missles.
It soon became the backbone of the United States air defenses
beginning with its introduction in 1956, replacing subsonic
F-102s served in large numbers with both Air Force and Air National
Guard units well into the 1970s.
Bush, later President of the United
States, flew the F-102 as part of his Air National Guard service in
the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the mid-1970s, F-102s began to be converted to QF-102 drones
under the Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) program.
- Lockheed F-104A
By 1958 delays in the delivery and development of the Convair F-106A Delta Dart Mach 2+
fighter-interceptor for ADC Command had at that time become
worrisome, and the USAF decided to go ahead and accept the F-104As
originally destined for the TAC and assign them to the ADC as a
The selection of the F-104A for the ADC was sort of curious, since
it had not been originally designed as an interceptor and it lacked
an adequate endurance and had no all-weather capability.
However, its high climb rate made it attractive to the ADC and it
was hoped that the Starfighter could fill in until the F-106 became
The F-104A was not very well suited for service as an
Its low range was a problem for North American air defense, and its
lack of all-weather capability made it incapable of operating in
conjunction with the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment)
Most F-104As were replaced by the end of 1960, however the 319th
Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Homestead AFB Florida retained their F-104As until the unit was
deactivated in 1969.
The last USAF F-104 aircraft remained in service with the Puerto
Rico Air National Guard until 1975.
- McDonnell F-101B/F
With the relative failure of the F-104A in the interceptor role,
ADC units were re-equipped with the F-101B Voodoo.
The F-101Bs were modified versions of the SAC F-101A nuclear attack
aircraft (designed for one-way missions carrying tactical nuclear
weapons) by modifying the avionics systems and fire control systems
for air to air missiles.
The last F-101Bs were delivered in March 1961, and once the
teething troubles with its fire control system issues were
corrected, the F-101B proved to be a quite successful
Along with the F-101Bs, The dual-seat F-101F trainer was also
F-101Fs were equipped with dual controls, but carried the same
armament as the F-101B and were fully combat-capable.
The F-101 was operated by both Regular Air Force and Air National
Guard ADC units.
- Convair F-106A Delta
The Convair F-106A Delta Dart was considered by many as being the
finest all-weather interceptor ever built.
It was the primary air defense interceptor aircraft for the US Air
Force from the 1960s through the early 1980s.
It was also was the last dedicated interceptor in U.S.
Air Force service to date.
It was gradually retired during the 1980s, though the QF-106 drone
conversions of the aircraft were used until 1998 as aerial targets
under the FSAT program.
A rough map of the RADAR warning lines
By 1953, a modern United States continental RADAR
system had been completed and additional radar
units were programmed to blanket the country with medium and
high-altitude radar cover. At the same time, the decision was made
to extend radar coverage as far from the American borders as
possible. An agreement with Canada for mutual
defense resulted in the extension of radar coverage into southern
Canada in 1952 , and permission was
granted by the USAF to erect the Distant Early Warning Line, which
became operational under ADC control in 1958. The DEW line
consisted of radars and continuous-wave stations along the Arctic Circle from Alaska to Greenland.
Coverage of BMEWS is shown in red,
complementing the coverage provided by the PAVE PAWS system in
Coverage for both systems extends over the North Pole and both
report back to Cheyenne Mountain Air Base in Colorado.
The massive construction project employed over 25,000 people.
consisted of sixty-three stations stretching from Alaska to Baffin Island, covering almost 10,000 km.
The project was
finished in 1957 and was considered an engineering marvel.
year, the line became a cornerstone of the new NORAD
organization of joint continental air defence.
Quite quickly after its completion, the DEW line lost much of its
purpose. It was useless against ICBMs and submarine-launched
attacks. A number of stations were decommissioned, but the bulk
were retained to monitor potential Soviet air activities and to
assert Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic
Work was begun in 1953 to erect a number of off-shore radars
platforms known as Texas Towers
extend the range of RADAR into the Atlantic Ocean. To provide even
more distant off-shore coverage, the Airborne Early Warning program
was begun, consisting of two wings of Lockheed RC-121 Warning Stars
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 1950’s, this meant a gain of at least 30 extra minutes
warning time of an oncoming bomber attack.
One of the Texas Towers (TT-4) collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean
with significant loss of life in January 1961. The tragedy of TT-4,
as much as anything else, sealed the fate of the others. While both
remaining towers were immediately checked for safety and structural
strength, and pronounced sound in this regard, their days were
numbered. The entire project was ended in 1963, and the remaining
facilities were decommissioned and sunk in 1964.
provide far distant early warning of missile attacks, the Ballistic Missile Early
Warning System was begun in 1958, with huge radar stations
destined for Alaska, Greenland and England. These radars were capable of detecting
missiles in flight, deep in the Soviet Union or in other similarly distant
SAGE Air Defense System
In 1953, development of the Semi-Automatic Ground
began. It was destined to become the nerve
center of air defense. It was an automated control system used by
NORAD for collecting, tracking and intercepting enemy bomber
aircraft from the late 1950s into the 1980s. In later versions, the
system could automatically direct aircraft to an interception by
sending commands directly to the aircraft's autopilot.
The first of the SAGE sectors was put into operation in July 1958,
and was rapidly joined by others in the eastern and northern United
States during 1959 and 1960. This electronic network is based on
the provision of digital computers and ancillary data-transmitting
equipment at strategic locations throughout the country. A major
purpose of this system is to provide instantaneous information to
interceptor aircraft in flight as well as trigger other defensive
By the time it was fully operational the Soviet bomber threat had
been replaced by the Soviet missile threat, for which SAGE was
entirely inadequate. Nevertheless, SAGE was tremendously important.
It led to huge advances in online systems and interactive
computing, real-time computing, and data communications using
modems. It is generally considered to be one of the most advanced
and successful large computer systems ever developed.
Bomarc missile launch
for list of BOMARC missile units.
Bomarc Missile Program (BOMARC IM-99A) was a joint
of America-Canada effort
between 1957 and 1971 to protect against the USSR bomber threat.
It involved the deployment of
tactical stations armed with Bomarc missiles along the east and
west coasts of North America
central areas of the continent.
The supersonic Bomarc missiles were the first long-range anti-aircraft missiles
in the world.
They were capable of carrying conventional or nuclear
warheads. Their intended role in
defence was in an intrusion prevention perimeter. Bomarcs aligned
on the eastern and western coasts of North America would
theoretically launch and destroy enemy bombers before the bombers
could drop their payloads on industrial regions.
BOMARC and the SAGE
guidance system were
phased out in the late sixties as they were ineffective and costly.
When the BOMARC missile was phased out, the SAGE guidance system
(TDDL, Time-Division Data Link) continued to be used for sending
commands to Nike missiles and interceptor autopilots.
The command and control of the massive North American air defense
system was a significant challenge. Discussions and studies of joint systems
between the United States and Canada had been ongoing since the
early 1950s and culminated on August 1, 1957, with the announcement
by the U.S. and Canada to establish an integrated command, the
North American Air Defense
On September 12 operations
commenced in Colorado. A formal NORAD agreement between the two
governments was signed on May 12, 1958.
Phasedown and deactivation
On 15 January 1968 Air Defense Command was redesignated as
Aerospace Defense Command
, reflecting a shift in
emphasis from soley bomber defense to the operation of a system to
detect and track ballistic missles and space satellites as the
threat of enemy aircraft over United States airspace sharply
diminished. Many ADC units were consolidated during the 1970s, and
as the air defense of the United States shifted more and more to
the Air National Guard
Air Force Reserve
, the need for
ADC diminished. Many ADC Radar Squadrons and Air Defense Groups
(Radar Squadrons with BUIC computers) continued operating well into
On 1 July 1973 consolidation of the staffs of Continental Air
Command and ADC began in a streamlining move. Six months later in
Feb 1973, ADC was reduced to 20 fighter squadrons and a complete
phaseout of air defense missile batteries. Continental Air Command
was disestablished on 1 Jul 1975 and ADC was designated as a
specific command, reporting directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff
for operational control.
Lastly, as part of a realignment of military assets, Aerospace Defense Command
inactivated as a Major Command on 1 October 1979. All assets of ADC
were reassigned to Heqdquarters, Air Defense, Tactical Air
. which was established compatible to a
Numbered Air Force
With this move many Air National
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.
The Aerospace Defense Command was disestablished on March 31,
ADC Historical Timeline
- March 27, 1946
United States Army Air Force activates the Air Defense Command at
Mitchel Field (later, Mitchel Air Force Base), New
- December 1, 1948
- The United States Air Force establishes the Continental Air Command under both
the Air Defense Command and Tactical Air Command
- June 27, 1950
- United States air defense systems begins 24-hour operations two
days after the start of the Korean
- July 1, 1950
- Air Defense Command deactivated because the Continental Air
Command gradually assumed full charge of United States air
- January 1, 1951
- Air Defense Command re-established, again at Mitchel Field
- January 8, 1951
- Air Defense Command headquarters moves from Mitchel Field to
Ent Air Force Base, Colorado
- July 14, 1952
- Air Defense Command begins 24-hour Ground Observer Corps
- September 1, 1954
- The Continental Air Defense Command is established at Ent Air
Force Base as a joint-service force, taking control of Air Force
Air Defense Command forces, Army Anti-Aircraft Command forces, and
Naval air defense forces
- September 12, 1957
- The North American Air Defense Command is established at Ent
Air Force Base as an international organization, taking operational
control of Canadian Air Defense Command air defense units and
United States Continental Air Defense Command air defense
- July 31, 1959
- The Ground Observer Corps, active since July 1952, is abolished
because of improvements in radar technology
- January 15, 1968
- Air Defense Command is redesignated as Aerospace Defense
- July 1, 1973
- Continental Air Defense Command and Aerospace Defense Command
headquarters begins consolidation and streamlining
- February 4, 1974
- The Department of Defense announces plans for cutbacks in air
defense forces showing increasing emphasis on ballistic missile
attack warning and decreasing emphasis on bomber defense
- June 30, 1974
- Continental Air Defense Command dis-established
- July 1, 1975
- Aerospace Defense Command designated a "Specified Command"
taking over Continental Air Defense Command roles and
- October 1, 1979
- Aerospace Defense Command inactivated as a Major Command; Air
Defense, Tactical Air Command established as a Numbered Air Force
equivalent under Tactical Air Command
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Agency Research Division, Organizational History Branch