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Air Defense Commands


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Office of History Aerospace Defense Center

A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization

Air Defense Command

Before ADCOM 


21 March 1946: Established as Air Defense Command

27 March 1946: Activated as a major command by the United States Army Air Force at Mitchel Field (later, Mitchel Air Force Base), New York

1 December 1948: The USAF establishes the Continental Air Command under both the Air Defense Command and Tactical Air Command

1 July 1950: Deactivated/Discontinued as a major command, Continental Air Command assumed full charge of United States air defense

1 January 1951: Reestablished as a major command

8 January 1951: Air Defense Command headquarters moves from Mitchel Field to Ent Air Force Base, Colorado

14 July 1952: Air Defense Command begins 24-hour Ground Observer Corps operations

1 September 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

12 September 1957: The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) 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 units

31 July 1959: The Ground Observer Corps, active since July 1952, is abolished because of improvements in radar technology

Aerospace Defense Command



15 January 1968: Re-designated as Aerospace Defense Command

1 July 1973: Continental Air Defense Command and Aerospace Defense Command headquarters begins consolidation and streamlining

4 February 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

30 June 1974: Continental Air Defense Command de-established

1 July 1975: Aerospace Defense Command designated a "Specified Command" taking over Continental Air Defense Command roles and responsibilities

1 October 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

31 March 1980: ADC Inactivated

Ref: Aerospace Defense Command The Interceptor publication, January 1979 (Volume 21, Number 1).

Air Defense of the Continental United States had its beginning when Major General Hap Arnold recommended an Air Defense Command Unit composed of Air Corps, Coast Guard Artillery, and Signal Corps be formed. On 26 February 1950 the unit was officially activated at Mitchell Field under the command of Brig Gen. James E. Chaney, an Air Corps officer. Although the command was deactivated fourteen months later, it provided the ground work for the future Air Defense Command.

On March 1946, Air Defense Command was organized as a major command, and on 1 December 1946 was placed under Continental Air Command. On I July 1950 ADC was discontinued; however, it was reactivated as a major command again on 1 January 1951. Air Defense Command was re-designated Aerospace Defense Command on 15 January 1968, and on 31 July 1975 it became a specified command under NORAD and JCS control.

During the 30-plus years of its existence the command has undergone many changes. One thing has not changed though; the men and women of the Command have provided the country with a continual shield against air attack. Starting with detection and warning and ending with the interceptors and aircrews standing alert to launch at a moment's notice.

In this issue of the magazine we have included an historic, and possibly nostalgic, sketch of the command by including brief histories of all (93 to be exact) the fighter interceptor squadrons assigned to the command as its alert force. These are just the active Air Force Squadrons that have been in the command. Time and space did not allow us to include the 76 Air National Guard Squadrons, several Naval Squadrons, radar squadrons, training squadrons and numerous support units that have played important roles in our nation's defense.

For brevity we have omitted some actions that affected all the squadrons in the command at that time. They are: 11 June 1948 when the P designation of all fighter aircraft was changed to F; 20 January 1948 when Fighter Squadrons became Fighter Interceptor Squadrons; and 18 August 1955 when a number of changes in unit designations took place under "Project Arrow." This restored many squadrons to the wings and groups to which they had belonged during World War II.

The ADC Mission

The Air Defense Command (ADC) is organized primarily to discharge Air Force responsibilities for the air defense of the United States. ADC supplies and maintains the major portion of Air Force weapons and real estate for this purpose. It has the responsibility to organize, administer, equip, train, and prepare combat units and combat crews assigned to ADC, and to place under the operational control of the Commander- in-Chief of the Continental and North American Air Defense Commands such elements when they are ready for combat. ADC recommends training needs for the Air National Guard (ANG), assists in its premobilization training, and assumes command over ANG air defense units upon mobilization. In addition, ADC controls the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, and the Texas Towers - radar stations in the Atlantic Ocean. ADC units fly the Lockheed RC-121 Warning Stars which form the aerial seaward extensions of ground radar lines off both ocean coasts of the United States. Basic air defense functions of ADC are: aircraft detection, identification, interception and destruction. ADC is the major component force of both the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) and the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).

ADC History

The War Department established an Air Defense Command on February 26, 1940. This command, operating under the control of the First Army Commander from March 2, 1940, to September 9, 1941, engaged in planning for air defense. Before the United States entered World War II, air defense was divided among the four air districts (later, numbered air forces) based in the United States: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Air Forces. In mid-1944, when the threat of air attack seemed negligible, this air defense organization was disbanded. Subsequently, no real air defense organization existed until the second Air (later Aerospace) Defense Command was established in 1946 as a major command of the Army Air Forces (AAF).

The Air Defense Command was organized on 21 Mar 1946, at Mitchel Field, NY. In December 1948, it was placed under the Continental Air Command and delegated supervision of the build-up of the air defense system. On 1 Jan 1951, it was established as a major air command at Ent AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The growth and development of the ADC air defense system has been steady. From four day-type fighter squadrons in 1946, the interceptor force grew to sixty all-weather squadrons in 1959. By 1953, a modern 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 (the Pinetree Line), and permission was granted by the USAF to erect the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, which became operational under ADC control in 1958; the DEW Line consists of radars and continuous-wave stations along the Arctic Circle from Alaska to Greenland.

Work was begun in 1953 to erect a number of off-shore radars platforms known as Texas Towers. 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.

In 1953, development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system began. It was destined to become the nerve center of air defense. 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 measures. On 1 Sep 1959, the first BOMARC IM-99A surface-to-air missile squadron became operational, harbinger of a program to replace a part of the manned interceptor force with unmanned interceptor missiles.

To provide far distant early warning of missile attacks, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was begun in 1958, with huge radar stations destined for Alaska, Greenland and England; these radars are capable of detecting missiles in flight, deep in the Soviet Union or in other similarly distant territory.

The Aerospace Defense Command declined after the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve gradually assumed more and more of the air defense mission. In 1980 Air Defense Command resources were divided between Tactical Air Command and Strategic Air Command. Some functions of the command passed to the Aerospace Defense Center, a direct reporting unit which inactivated on October 1, 1986.

Established as Air Defense Command on March 21, 1946. Activated as a major command on March 27, 1946. Became an operational command of Continental Air Command on December 1, 1948. Discontinued on July 1, 1950. Reestablished as a major command, and organized, on January 1, 1951. Re-designated Aerospace Defense Command on January 15, 1968. Inactivated on March 31, 1980.  

Air Divisions


Air Defense, Tactical Air Command


Air Defense, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC) was a Named Unit of the United States Air Force, and operated at the Numbered Air Force echelon of Tactical Air Command. It was responsible for the air defense of the United States, and was last stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. It was last assigned to Tactical Air Command, and was inactivated on 6 December 1985.

ADTAC was established when the Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM) was inactivated as a Major Command on 1 October 1979. Aerospace Defense Command's atmospheric defense resources (interceptors, warning radars, and associated bases and personnel) were subsequently transferred to ADTAC. The command was, essentially, a transition organization between the Aerospace Defense Command, and the transfer of the air defense mission from the USAF to the Air National Guard in 1990.

It consisted of over 25,000 military and civilian personnel performing duty at radar sites, missile warning stations, fighter interceptor bases, satellite tracking centers, and command and control centers throughout the world.[1] The command had the responsibility to provide operationally ready interceptor aircraft and aircrews for air defense alert 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. These assets had to be capable of scrambling to identify and assist or engage unidentified or hostile airborne objects approaching or entering United States airspace without proper approval. These scrambles were initiated from the respective region headquarters based on information derived from radar site data and previously known or expected airborne traffic. During increased states of readiness, these same ADTAC assets would provide additional air defense forces to CINCNORAD to provide early warning information, attack assessment, and air defense of North America. During peacetime operations, the mission of ADTAC was to command, train, manage, and evaluate forces required for the above-mentioned air defense contingencies. In doing so, the tasks of preparing budget proposals, acquiring equipment, and providing support requirements, were essential to providing ready air defense forces.
Interceptor aircraft transferred to ADTAC during the reorganization consisted of F-101 Voodoo, F-106 Delta Dart, and F-4 Phantom II fighters. The F-101 was the oldest and was possessed by three Air National Guard units, plus the Air Defense Weapons Center at Tyndall AFB. The F-101s at Tyndall were used mainly as simulated target aircraft employing electronic counter measures (ECM) and for towing targets for testing and training. Due to its age and problems in supporting the F-101, it was soon deleted from the inventory. By the fall of 1982, all F-101s, including those at Tyndall, had been retired; and, except for those at Tyndall, had been replaced by the F-4 Phantom II. The F-4 and F-106 remained in the interceptor inventory. The F-4 was possessed by Air National Guard squadrons and the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Iceland. The F-106 was possessed by Air Force and Air Guard squadrons. Modification of the F-106 through the years had improved its fire control system in an attempt to keep it up-to-date, but did not update its armament except for the addition of a gun. TAC planned the eventual conversion of all the Air Force F-106 squadrons to the F-15 Eagle and F-4 units to the F-16 Fighting Falcon Air Defense Fighter (ADF) variant. The two squadrons of EB-57 Canberra aircraft transferred to ADTAC were retired from the inventory by 1983. These aircraft were previously used for target training missions and electronic countermeasure training.

Both active-duty and Air National Guard squadrons under state control were administratively assigned to TAC though their state ANG control for the air defense mission. On 9 December 1985 these ADTAC Air Division units were placed under the newly activated First Air Force at Langley AFB, VA, which later moved to Tyndall AFB, FL in 1991. This arrangement remained in effect until the last F-106 was retired by the 177th FIG of the New Jersey Air National Guard and all Regular Air Force and ANG F-101 and F-106 units had transitioned to either the F-4, the F-15 or the F-16.

The Air Defense Weapons Center at Tyndall AFB, Florida was reorganized and a new organization was activated, the 325th Fighter Weapons Wing (FWW). The 325th FWW, through its subordinate units, conducted an extensive training program for air defense aircrews and weapons controllers; the USAF Interceptor Weapons School (IWS) trained instructors in all phases of interceptor weapons systems and employment. F-106 training was conducted by the 2d Fighter Interceptor Training Squadron (FITS). This unit was re-designated the 2d Fighter Weapons Squadron (FWS) on 1 February 1982. The 2nd FWS's mission continued to be F-106 training with plans to convert to the F-15 Eagle starting in the fall of 1983. All continental USAF sub-scale and full-scale drone aerial target operations were consolidated in the 82d Tactical Aerial Targets Squadron (TATS) of the 475th Weapons Evaluation Group (WEG). The Weapons Center's drone facilities, proximity to the Gulf of Mexico air-to-air gunnery ranges, and experienced personnel, made it compatible with many of TAC's training programs.


Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station
Rocky Mountains Front Range, Colorado Springs, CO


The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) www.norad.mil was establishment on May 12, 1958. It is a bi-national United States and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. Aerospace warning includes the monitoring of man-made objects in space, and the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles, utilizing mutual support arrangements with other commands. Aerospace control includes ensuring air sovereignty and air defense of the airspace of Canada and the United States.

To accomplish these critically important missions, NORAD continually adjusted its structure to meet the demands of a changing world. A commander is appointed by, and is responsible to, both the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada. The commander maintains his headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., and a command and control center a short distance away at Cheyenne Mountain Air Station. Cheyenne Mountain serves as a central collection and coordination facility for a worldwide system of sensors designed to provide the commander and the leadership of Canada and the U.S. with an accurate picture of any aerospace threat. Three subordinate region headquarters at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, Canadian Forces Base, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Tyndall AFB, Florida, receive direction from the commander and control air operations within their respective areas of responsibility.

To accomplish the aerospace warning mission, commander NORAD is responsible for providing integrated tactical warning and attack assessment (ITW/AA) of an aerospace attack on North America to the governments of Canada and the United States. This is done using information made available by the ITW/AA system. Portions of that system are under the operational control of commander NORAD and other portions are operated by commands supporting NORAD.

NORAD's aerospace control mission includes detecting and responding to any air-breathing threat to North America. To accomplish this mission, NORAD utilizes a network of ground-based radars and fighters to detect, intercept and if necessary engage any air-breathing threat to the continent. These fighters consist of U.S. F-15s and F-16s and Canadian CF-18s. As a part of its aerospace control mission, NORAD assists in the detection and monitoring of aircraft suspected of illegal drug trafficking. This information is passed to civilian law enforcement agencies to help combat the flow of illegal drugs into North America.

Through outstanding cooperation and cohesiveness, NORAD has proven itself effective in its roles of watching, warning, and responding. By adapting to the changing world, NORAD will continue to play an important role in the defense of Canada and the U.S. The events of September 11, 2001 provide evidence of NORAD's responsiveness and continued relevance to North American security. By quickly adapting its traditionally outward-looking focus to meet new threats posed by terrorists to the interior of the continent, NORAD provides a potent military response capability to civil authorities to counter domestic airspace threats.

The NORAD emblem has been proudly displayed as a symbol of unity between the United States and Canada. The heraldic meaning of the emblem follows: The blue background of the shield signifies the air; the turquoise waters on the globe denote the sea; the yellow continent indicates the land -- the three environments in which any defense of the North American continent would take place. The silver wings enfolding the globe in a protective manner, issuing from behind the globe and out of space, are symbolic of the armed forces and the might of NORAD. The upward position of the sword pointing toward the northern skies represents the direction that is considered 'the shortest approach of the potential aggressor'. With the advent of the asymmetric terrorist threat, it may also be said that the “sharp edges of the sword are prepared to meet any aggressor in our domestic airspace.

Though future homeland defense/security organizations are still being formulated by the national leadership of both Canada and the U.S., NORAD's proven abilities and unique capabilities will be a vital part of homeland security and defense.

North American Aerospace Defense Command
The Return of NORAD [Feb 2002] [pdf]

Air Defense  Commanders

Air Defense Command (ADC)

Lt. Gen George Stratemeyer: 21-Mar-46/30-Nov-48
Maj. Gen Gordon Saville: 1-Dec-48/31-Dec-50
Lt. Gen Ennis Whitehead: 1-Jan-51/25-Aug-51
Gen Benjamin Chidlaw: 25-Aug-51/31-May-55
Maj. Gen Frederick Smith, Jr.: 31-May-55/19-Jul-55
(acting)Gen Earle Partridge: 20-Jul-55/17-Sep-56
Lt. Gen Joseph Atkinson : 17-Sep-56/15-Aug-61
Lt. Gen Robert Lee: 15-Aug-61/31-Jul-63
Lt. Gen Herbert Thatcher: 1-Aug-63/31-Jul-67
Lt. Gen Arthur Agan: 1-Aug-67/31-Dec-67

Aerospace Defense Command (ADCOM)

Lt. Gen Arthur Agan: 1-Jan-68/28-Feb-70
Lt. Gen Thomas McGehee: 1-Mar-70/1-Jul-73
Gen Seth McKee: 1-Jul-73/1-Oct-73
Gen Lucius Clay, Jr.: 1-Oct-73/31-Aug-75
Gen Daniel James, Jr.: 1-Sep-75/5-Dec-77
Gen James Hill: 6-Dec-77/30-Nov-79

Aerospace Defense Center, Tactical Air Command (ADTAC)

Gen James Hill: 1-Dec-79/1-Jan-80
Gen James Hartinger: 1-Jan-80/31-Aug-80

ADC Pamphlet 190-1

(Sept 1963) - The Bases

                     Andrews AFB, Maryland
Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana
Castle AFB, California
Charleston AFB, South Carolina
Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona
Dover AFB, Delaware
Dow AFB, Maine
Duluth Municipal Airport, Minnesota
Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota
England AFB, Louisiana
Ent AFB, Colorado
Geiger Field, Washington
George AFB, California
Glasgow AFB, Montana
Goose AB, Canada
Griffiss AFB, New York
Hamilton AFB, California
K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan
Kincheloe AFB, Michigan
Kingsley Field, Oregon
Kirtland AFB, New Mexico

Contributed by John Sheehan

Langley AFB, Virginia  
Larson AFB, Washington
Lockbourne AFB, Ohio
Loring AFB, Maine
Malmstrom AFB, Montana
McChord AFB, Washington
McCoyAFB, Florida
Otis AFB, Massachusetts
Oxnard AFB, California
Paine AFB, Washington
Portland International Airport, Oregon
Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri
Selfridge AFB, Michigan
Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina
Suffolk County AFB, New York
Travis AFB, California
Truax Field, Wisconsin
Walker AFB, New Mexico
Webb AFB, Texas
Wurtsmith AFB, Michigan
Youngstown Municipal Airport, Ohio