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1958 Ent AFB - NORAD HQ.png
Until 1963, CONAD HQ was located in the 4-story former National Methodist Sanitorium building (background, behind sign)
Active 1954 September 1–1975 June 30
Branch unified command
Role air defense
Part of NORAD

Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was the Cold War military organization of Army, Navy, and USAF air defense commands for the Continental United States. The first U.S. component of NORAD, the unified command's anti-aircraft defenses included Army Project Nike missiles (Ajax and Hercules) and USAF interceptors (manned aircraft and BOMARC missiles). CONAD had operational control of nuclear air defense weapons such as the 10 kiloton W-40 nuclear warhead on the CIM-10B BOMARC,[1] but 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. While the SAFEGUARD anti-ICBM missile complex was being deployed, the CONAD ended in 1975 and the USAF component, Aerospace Defense Command, became the US's executive organization for US NORAD operations.


In 1947 at the end of the reorganization for a National Military Establishment that ended the USAAF Continental Air Forces for CONUS air defense and created the USAF Air Defense Command (ADC), "consideration" for a joint command for air defense began.[2] After the USAF initiated a 1949 experimental military program for the "1954 interceptor" 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] and the new Air Defense Command (ADC) at Ent AFB and ARAACOM staffed in the nearby Antlers Hotel (Colorado) had been established in 1951, the year the Priority Permanent System began replacing the post-war Lashup Radar Network.

After a direct telephone line was installed in mid-July 1950 between the 1948 General Whitehead's Mitchel Field headquarters and the 26th Air Division HQ at Roslyn Air Warning Station ("the beginning of the Air Force air raid warning system".) When the Korean War broke out, the USAF established the Pentagon Air Force Command Post, from which "President Truman had a direct telephone line installed to the White House.[5]:133 By 1953, continental air defenses included assets of 5 organizations, including 1 unified command responsible to the JCS (AAC):[2]

USAF operational control

DoD directives and interservice agreements identified the USAF would "assume operational control of all [US air defense] weapons during an attack", but the Army complained the USAF command and control network (e.g., 1950 SOCS telephone/teletype system) was "insufficiently reliable"[6] (the Army publicly announced the M51 Skysweeper AA artillery in the 1953,)[7] In response to the "enemy capabilities to inflict massive damage on the continental United States by surprise air attack",[8] the National Security Council met on October 13[2] and formulated President Eisenhower's "The New Look" strategy: "to minimize the [Soviet] threat",[9] "the major purpose of air defense was not to shoot down enemy bombers—it was to allow SAC"[5] bombers "to get into the air [and] not be destroyed on the ground [to allow] massive retaliation".[10]


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".[8] 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":[11]

"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:[12]

  • 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".

After the JCS directed establishment of CONAD on August 2, 1954,[citation needed] SECDEF announced the joint Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) later in the month for "correlating and integrating the air defense capabilities of the three military departments into an air defense system responsible to the control of one military commander" (Wainstein).[2] The ADC "main battle control center"[2] was moved out of the former hallway/latrine in the Ent AFB headquarters building and into a new 1954 blockhouse, and offices for both CONAD and a new "Naval Forces CONAD" headquarters (under command of RADM Albert K. Morehouse)[4] were prepared in the building with Ent's ADC and ARAACOM HQs.

Operational control

CONAD was established effective September 1, 1954, with the mission "of (1) defending the continental United States against air attack and (2) supporting CINCPAC, CINCLANT, CINCARIB, COMSAC, CINCAL, and CINCNE in their missions to the maximum extent consistent with its primary mission."[13] ADC's commander—General Benjamin Chidlaw--"became the first CINCONAD", USAF was "designated the executive agency", and CONAD's "operational control"[4] was for:[14]

  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.

After the Experimental SAGE Subsector received[15] a prototype IBM computer in July 1955[16] for development of a "national air defense network",[17] a late 1955 "CONAD plan for [USAF] SAGE control of [Army] Nike missiles" caused an interservice dispute[2] (in 1956 SECDEF approved CONAD's plan for USAF units at computerized Army nuclear bunkers[18]--the 1959 Missile Master Plan resolved the dispute to have separate 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" (CONAD's December 1956 CADOP 56-66 requested "six prime and 41 gap-tiller radars [to be] located in Mexoo.)[13] By 1956, CONAD had designated 3 "SAC Base Complexes" (geographical areas) for defense 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.[19]

1956 reorganization

A "Proposed Reorganization of Headquarters CONAD" was submitted by Mar 24, 1956;[20] and CINCONAD had testified in a US Senate hearing by June 1956.[21] On September 4, 1956,[22] the JCS Terms of Reference changed the CONAD mission to "more in line [with that] of a joint task force" and separated command of ADC from CINCONAD (LGen Atkinson became ADC commander)--the CONAD joint staff separated from the ADC HQ staff on October 1, 1956.[23] The JCS also transferred "the air defense systems in Alaska and the Canadian Northeast" from those unified commands to CONAD,[2] but on January 1, 1957; CINCONAD placed the US defenses in a geometric "Canadian Northeast Area" under operational control of RCAF ADC.[23] In December 1956 CINCONAD requested a bunker to replace the above-ground Ent AFB blockhouse[5] and in March 1957, CONAD "told the JCS that an adequate and timely defense system against the intercontinental ballistic missile was "the most urgent future CONAD requirement."[24] CONAD identified a requirement "for a defense against cruise and ballistic missiles launched from submarines or surface ships" on June 14, 1957[25] (the 1957 Gaither Commission identified "little likelihood of SAC's bombers surviving since there was no way to detect an incoming attack until the first [ICBM] warhead landed",[26] and the BMEWS GOR was issued on November 7, 1957.) In 1957 "on 6 September, CONAD advised all appropriate agencies that NORAD was to be established at Ent Air Force Base effective 0001 Zulu 12 September" with "integrated headquarters" of CONAD and RCAF ADC[13] (the CONAD/ADC commander became CINCNORAD.) Associated with the 1958 international NORAD agreement, "RCAF officers…agreed the command's primary purpose would be…early warning and defense for SAC's retaliatory forces."[5]:252

A 1958 "reorganization in National Command Authority relations with the joint commands" with a "direct channel" to unified commands such as CONAD was effected after President Eisenhower expressed concern[specify]

about nuclear command and control.[2]  The CONAD blockhouse at Ent became a "master station" of the 1958 Alert Network Number 1,[13] (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.[27]  When the ICBM threat had sufficiently developed, DoD's June 19, 1959, Continental Air Defense Program reduced the number of Super Combat Centers to 7, then all were cancelled on March 18, 1960[28] (the Canadian nuclear bunker started at CFS North Bay was instead completed in 1963 with vacuum tube computers.)

The "war room" of the NORAD/CONAD Combined Operations Center at the Chidlaw Building in Colorado Springs took over operations in 1963 from the nearby Ent AFB command center.

Space defense

SECDEF assigned to CONAD on November 7, 1960 "operational command" of the Space Detection and Tracking System (SPADATS)[29] with SPACETRACK and NAVSPASUR sensors.[30] 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,[specify]

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 in 1966.  After NORAD HQ moved to the Chidlaw Building on February 15, 1963, CONAD and NORAD offices were consolidated on March 7, 1963.[31][unreliable source?]  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.[32] By January 12, 1965, CONAD had a Space Defense Center Implementation Plan[33] (in 1967 the 1st Aero moved Ent's Space Defense Center operations[34] to Cheyenne Mountain's Group III Space Defense Center.)[35]  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, after which CONAD was disestablished on June 30, 1975,[31] during the SAFEGUARD ABM deployment (operational October 1, 1975). The last CINCCONAD remained CINCNORAD, and ADCOM personnel manned combined NORAD/ADCOM staff organizations. Ent AFB closed in 1976, and ADCOM was broken up 1979-80 with interceptors transferring to a TAC unit at the Chidlaw Bldg, missile warning stations transferring to SAC (e.g., the new PAVE PAWS sites), electronics units transferring to AFCS, and the NORAD/ADCOM "Air Force Element" forming the new Aerospace Defense Center. 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 Space Command, which became a 1985 component of the unified United States Space Command—then the 2002 United States Strategic Command (e.g., the 2006 Missile Correlation Center was split into STRATCOM's Missile Warning Center and NORAD/NORTHCOM's "Missile and Space Domain").[citation needed]

External images
1956 & two 1954 organizational charts


  1. Maloney, Sean M. (2007) (Google Books). Learning to Love the Bomb: Canada's Nuclear Weapons During the Cold War. Retrieved 2014-06-20. "BOMARC CIM-10B…W-40 warhead…ordinarily set between 7000 and 10000 feet altitude to protect ground personnel from atomic scorching. …armed during the terminal phase…then fired from an influence fuse [when] within 3000 feet of the target.92"" 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Wainstein, L. (June 1975). The Evolution of U.S. Strategic Command and Control and Warning: Part One (1945-1953) (Report). Study S-467. Institute for Defense Analyses. pp. 1–138.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Wainstein" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Wainstein" defined multiple times with different content
  3. McMullen, Richard F. (15 Feb 80). History of Air Defense Weapons 1946–1962 (Report). Historical Division, Office of information, HQ Air Defense Command. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Leonard, Barry. History of Strategic and Ballistic Missile Defense. Volume I: 1945–1955. p. 31. "Various efforts to promote a unified air defense command developed during the period. Organizational proposals arose in 1950, again in 1953, and finally in 1954, culminated in CONAD…. 1955…31 May…General Chidlaw retires. Major General Smith becomes acting Commander, ADC; LT General Michelsen becomes acting CINCONAD pending the arrival of CONAD and ADC designated Commander General Earl E. Partridge." 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 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 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. "Training 'Skysweeper' Crews". Red Bank, New Jersey. April 30, 1953. p. 3. Retrieved 2010-12-16. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Radford, Admiral Arthur (Circa January 1954). "title tbd" (memorandum).  (cited and quoted by Wainstein p. 198-9)
  9. Joint Chiefs of Staff summary[specify] (cited by Schaffel p. 194)
  10. Canadian House of Commons transcript (quoted by Schaffel, p. 251 -- speaker not identified). NOTE: Massive retaliation was "espoused publicly in January 1954 by Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles" (Schaffel p. 194)
  11. Memorandum from CJCS to JCS (CM 217-511 ), 15 Januarv 1954 (Citation 47 at Wainstein pp. 112, 136)
  12. 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)
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1958 (Jan-Jun) |accessdate=30 April 2013
  14. author tbd (year tbd). Air Defense: An Historical Analysis (Report). Vol. III. p. 110.  (Leonard p. 147 citation 306)
  16. (minutes at tbd url with page name "MC665_r14_6M-3797.pdf") Biweekly Report for 29 July 1955 (Report). Lincoln Laboratory Division 6. "All XD-1 frames have now been delivered. The LRI and output frame arrived 29 July." 
  17. "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.. 
  18. Cite NORAD Historical Summary |year=1958 (Jul-Dec) |quote=In September 1956, CONAD proposed to the JCS the collocation of the Missile Master and the Air Force's AN/GPA-37 in ten areas. The Office of the Secretary ot Defense concurred on 30 October 1956.
  19. Continental Air Defense Operations Plan (CADOP 56-66) submitted on 18 December 1956 and cited in Maloney's Learning to Love the Bomb
  20. "Proposed Reorganization of Headquarters CONAD, 23 Mar 1956 (DOC 2)" cited in July 1956-June 1957 CONAD historical summary, p. 107, citation 7
  21. U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, “Study of Airpower: Hearings before the Subcommittee on the Air Force of the Committee on Armed Services,” testimony of GEN Earle E. Partridge, CINCONAD, 84th Congress, Senate, 2nd Session, 16 April–1 June 1956.
  22. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Terms of Reference for CINCONAD, Washington, D.C., 4 September 1956.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Cite NORAD Historical Summary [1] |year=1956-7 |quote="The U. S. Army Antiaircraft Command was redesignated the U. S. Army Air Defense Command [USARADCOM, ARADCOM in 1961] on 21 March 1957. … the AN/GPA-37, could be integrated with the Missile Master at the same location. A concept for colocation and integrating the two was then developed. This concept was approved by General Partridge and sent to the JCS on 19 September 1956 … "Technical Plan -SAGE Missile ~ter," 11 Mu-1957 (DOC 36)"
  24. CONAD to C/S, USAF, "Defense Against Ballistic Missiles," 7 Mar 1951 (p. 89 citation 6 in CONAD's 1956-7 Historical Summary)
  25. CONAD to C/S, USAF, "Continental Air Defense Requirements," 14 Jun 1951 (p. 89 citation 7 in CONAD's 1956-7 Historical Summary)
  26. Freeman, Maj Steve (September 1997). "Visionaries, Cold War, hard work built the foundations of Air Force Space Command". p. 6. 
  28. Cite NORAD Historical Summary |version=1959 (July-Dec) |accessdate=30 April 2013
  29. Beyond Horizons
  30. Temple, L. Parker. Shades of Gray: National Security and the Evolution of Space Reconnaissance. Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 When was the chidlaw building constructed on Colorado. Retrieved on 2013-09-18.
  33. NORAD to ADC, "(U) NORAD/CONAD Space Defense Center Implementation Plan," 12 Jan 1965 (cited by Jan-Jun 1966 NORAD/CONAD Historical Summary)
  34. (unidentified document located at "Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB AL, AFHRA Microfilm reel KO363") [1961-1969 Historical reports][which?] (Report). 1st Aerospace Surveillance and Control Squadron. 
  35. (abstract) 9th Aerospace Defense Division (Report). Ent Air Force Base. 1966. Retrieved 2012-09-02. 

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