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North American Aerospace Defense Command

NORAD is the military agency charged with guarding North America against attacks by aircraft, missiles and/or space vehicles. It also assists in the detection and monitoring of aircraft suspected of drug trafficking.

official emblem of NORAD


The Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was organized in 1950 and charged with detecting and intercepting Soviet bombers attacking North America via the Arctic. To help carry out that mission, the United States and Canada agreed to construct a series of radar stations across North America. These stations were deployed in three segments -- the Pinetree Line, consisting of 33 radar installations across southern Canada, was completed in 1954; the McGill Fence, consisting of a line of Doppler radar domes for detection of low-flying craft, was completed along the 55th parallel in 1957; and, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, with 58 stations along the 69th parallel, which was also completed in 1957. These three systems together provided about three hours advance warning of a bomber attack coming over the North Pole.

In August 1957, Canadian and U.S. officials announced the establishment of an integrated command in Colorado Springs. On May 12, 1958, the Canadian and U.S. governments formally exchanged diplomatic notes which constitute the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) Agreement, which sanctioned the shared air defense command arrangements.

As the threat against North America shifted from aircraft-borne nuclear weapons to those carried by intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could deliver their deadly payloads much quicker, NORAD's system of warning networks had to become more sophisticated. This in turn led to the building of the extensive command control system commonly known as the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.

After 9/11, NORAD's mission was expanded to include the monitoring of all aircraft flying within U.S. airspace, and, in 2006, its mission was further expanded to include maritime approaches, maritime areas, and inland waterways.

NORAD officially became the North American Aerospace Defense Command in March 2007.


NORAD consists of a binational headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, near Colorado Springs, and regional headquarters at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Canadian Forces Base, Winnipeg, and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The Commander, who is always from the United States, is appointed by and responsible to the U.S. President and the Canadian Prime Minister; the Deputy Commander, who is always Canadian, reports to the Commander.

Santa Claus

On December 24, 1955, a little girl called the CONAD headquarters to ask about the whereabouts of Santa Claus. The call was inspired by an advertisement placed by a Colorado Springs Sears store which gave a phone number for children to call and talk to Santa. Unfortunately, the phone number was misprinted in the ad, resulting in the calls going to CONAD instead. Fortunately for the little girl, however, the man who answered the phone that night checked his radar screen and was able to give her Santa's exact location and tell her how long she had before she needed to be in bed. The calls kept coming, and the CONAD staff kept answering them. NORAD has been tracking Santa ever since, and children can now follow his progress via a special website, as well as by phone.

The official NORAD website is

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The Robinson Library >> Air Defenses

This page was last updated on 06/18/2018.