North American Aerospace Defense Command Celebrates 46th Anniversary
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - North American Aerospace Defense Command celebrated its 46th anniversary May 12 with a cake cutting ceremony and a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday" in the foyer of the headquarters building.
Not only has NORAD grown another year older, it has become "an indispensable element of homeland security."
That is how Peter Jennings, ABC World News Tonight anchor, described NORAD in a May 3 broadcast. Mr. Jennings visited Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., earlier this month to film a news segment about the changes in NORAD's mission since the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers in New York nearly three years ago.
"Sept. 11, 2001 brought NORAD into the new age of terrorist threats and the need to provide a new layer in air defense," said LGen. Rick "Eric" Findley, NORAD deputy commander since July 2003. Addressing a crowd of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command staff gathered for the birthday celebration, General Findley noted that NORAD is more relevant today than it has been at any other time.
"NORAD has adapted to everything they've thrown at us," said General Findley. "The most recent changes," he said, "have made North America a safer place to live."
NORAD was established as a bi-national command in 1957 when U.S. and Canadian leaders agreed to defend mutual air, land and sea areas from threats by the Soviet Union.
"The Soviets launched their first Sputnik in 1957 and the war game changed," said General Findley. He said U.S. officials believed at the time that, if the Soviets could launch a satellite, "they could employ missiles from space." That thought, coupled with the possibility of the Soviets sending manned bombers to attack North America spawned the creation of NORAD.
Since its inception, NORAD has continued to evolve. In 1989, the command was tasked to assist law enforcement agencies in detecting, tracking and intercepting drug smugglers trying to enter North American airspace.
But after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break up of the Soviet Union, NORAD's existence seemed tenuous at best. Then came Sept. 11, 2001, which forced U.S. leaders to focus on homeland defense and homeland security. The resulting actions not only expanded NORAD's mission but also reinvigorated the organization.
Since September 2001, NORAD has partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to install approximately 300 radios in FAA facilities so NORAD controllers can communicate with fighter pilots throughout the country.
Additionally, NORAD has scrambled or diverted fighter jets more than 1,700 times and flown nearly 35,000 sorties in response to potential threats since the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Potential future missions and capabilities for NORAD include using high altitude airships to defend against air, ground and maritime-based threats; and employing a full spectrum wide area surveillance capability in the air and maritime domains.
Initially, NORAD stood for North American Air Defense Command. But in 1981, "air" was replaced with "aerospace" to reflect NORAD's aerospace warning as well as air sovereignty mission.
NORAD's area of responsibility stretches from Clear, Alaska to the Florida Keys, and from St. John's Newfoundland to San Diego, Calif. To accomplish its aerospace warning and control mission, NORAD is divided into three regions: Alaskan NORAD Region, with headquarters at Elmendorf AFB; Canadian NORAD Region, with headquarters at Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Continental U.S. NORAD Region, with headquarters at Tyndall AFB, Fla.