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The History of NORAD

By Edited Jul 23, 2016 0 0

The United States has various organizations to defend its territory.  The Navy, Army, Air Force and Marines are the military factions, but in cooperation with Canada, the U.S. also has the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to “deter, detect, and defend” the United States and Canada.

The Birth of NORAD

In the late 1950s the Cold War was at its peak and the United States and Canada had grave concerns about the security of their territories.  Attacks from the Atlantic or Pacific could be detected by Navy ships, Air Force aircraft, or radar platforms, but the Arctic region was under

Cheyenne Mountain NORAD Entrance; Photo courtesy of the US Air Force, Source: Wikimedia Commons
protected. The United States and Canada agreed to construct an early warning system to defend the under-protected Artic region and built radar stations in a network throughout the region.  Commanding and controlling the large system was a challenge and both countries agreed there was a need for a central command and control center. 

In 1957 the two countries announced a joint effort to build a control and command center to defend North America.  The agreement was formalized in May of 1958 and included eleven principles governing the operation and governing of the organization; and also required a renewal every ten years. An Army Corps of Engineers supervised excavating Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  On June 16

Constructing NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain; photo courtesy of the US Air Force, Source: Wikimedia Commons
, 1961 the NORAD Commander, General Laurence S. Kuter and ADC Commander, Lt. General Robert M. Lee, set off symbolic dynamite charges at the official groundbreaking ceremony.  Inside the granite mountain, they built an operational center and on April 20, 1966 the facility within the mountain became fully operational as the North American Air Defense Command Combat Operations Center.[1]

As threats to the countries’ security changes, the role of the Command Center has adjusted its structure and its role.  On July 28, 2006 NORAD and US Northern Command

Blast Doors at NORAD; Photo courtesy of the US Federal Government, Source: Wikimedia Commons
(USNORTHCOM) Command Center began work on integrating within the headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base.[1]  In May, 2008, the Command Center within Cheyenne Mountain was re-designated as the alternate command center of the two organizations.[1]

The Cheyenne Mountain Complex, now called the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station is owned and operated by the Air Force Space Command.  NORAD and USNORTHCOM only use just short of 30% of the floor space of the complex.[1]  The daily operations of the North American Aerospace Defense Command are conducted at Peterson Air Force Base.[1]

What is NORAD

NORAD Logo; Photo courtesy of the US Federal Government, Source: norad.mil
The commander of the Center is appointed by the United States President and the Canadian Prime Minister and is responsible to them both. The Commander’s headquarters are based at Peterson Air Force Base, a short distance from Cheyenne Mountain.  Also based at Peterson is the main command center called the NORAD-US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) Command Center.  The USNORTHCOM serves as the central facility for collection and coordination for a worldwide system of sensors.[2]  This network of sensors is designed to provide the leadership of the two countries with an accurate account of any threat coming from space.
Headquarters of NORAD; Photo courtesy of the US Federal Government, Source Wikimedia Commons

 In addition, there are three subordinate regional headquarters.  Region one is located at Elmendorf Air Force Bade in Alaska; region two is located at Canadian Forces Base in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the third region is located at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.  Each of these regional Command Centers is directed by the commander and control air operations of their respective regions.[2]

The Current Role of NORAD

In 1981 the Center changed its name to North American Aerospace Defense Command to reflect its increasing role in monitoring space worldwide.  The renewal of 1996 reflected the change in mission to redefine it as an aerospace warning and control for North America. To monitor aerospace, NORAD uses satellites, airborne radar and fighters and ground-based

Command Center at NORAD; Photo courtesy of NORAD – US Federal Government, Source: Wikimedia Commons


As part of the aerospace the role of the Command Center, it assists in detecting and monitoring suspected drug trafficking aircraft and passing on the information to civil law enforcement authorities.   After the attacks on September 11, 2001, NORAD’s mission included monitoring all aircraft in the airspace of the interior of the United States.[1]  Aerospace control includes the capability to intercept, escort, divert and if necessary destroy any airborne object. The renewal of 2006 added a maritime warning mission to the command’s role.

NORAD Santa Tracking

NORAD tracking includes a yearly monitor of a famous entity.  Santa tracking began with the opening of the Command Center.  It started quite by accident.  In 1955 on Christmas Eve, a local girl in Colorado Springs followed an ad in the local newspaper directing kids to call Santa directly.  However, the number was printed incorrectly and was actually the number into the

NORAD Santa Tracking 2005 Logo; Photo courtesy of US Federal Government, Photographer:  Bob Jones, NORAD Public Affairs, Source: Wikimedia Commons
Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center (CONAD).   The colonel on duty at the time directed his operators to find the location of Santa and report it to everychild who phoned that evening.  Colonel HarryShoup came to be known as “Santa Colonel” and thus began the tradition which NORAD carried on when it became operational. [1]

Every Christmas Eve, thousands of volunteers man the telephones and computers to report Santa’s whereabouts to eager children from around the world.  A website was set up to provide live updates in seven languages.  NORAD Tracks Santa Web site claims to receive almost nine million visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world.[1]   Using satellites, radars and jet fighters, NORAD keeps children (and adults) up to date on Santa’s progress. Each year the Public Affairs office puts out a new logo for tracking Santa.


The copyright of the article The History of NORAD is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas
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Cheyenne mountain complex - short documentation

Tour inside NORAD



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  1. "About NORAD." North American Aerospace Defense Command. 09/03/2012 <Web >
  2. "North American Aerospace Defense Command." Wikipedia. 09/03/2012 <Web >

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