Military Recommendations on Continental Defence

Canadian External Relations - 1954


Volume #20 - 462.









Memorandum from Acting Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs
to Secretary of State for External Affairs

Top Secret

[Ottawa], June 4th, 1954


The MSG has just concluded an important meeting and is submitting new recommendations to the Chiefs of Staff of the United States and Canada.

2. Annexed is the report prepared by Mr. Barton, our observer on the MSG. In order to put the new recommendations in perspective, he has in this report summarized the earlier recommendations and decisions.

3. It is apparent that many important decisions will soon be sought from Cabinet by the Chiefs of Staff. Would you consider it desirable to have the report discussed at a meeting in your office with appropriate officers of this Department 21

4. The Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources will be one of the Departments vitally concerned with the new recommendations. However, it would not be appropriate for the Department of External Affairs, at this stage, to inform Northern Affairs or any other Department of the MSG recommendations because the MSG reports to Chiefs of Staff, who in turn report to their Minister and the Government.

R.A. M[acKay]




Top Secret
[Ottawa], June 4, 1954


It will be recalled that when the Canadian Government, in February 1953, authorized the United States Government to carry out the Arctic radar experimental project then know as COUNTERCHANGE (later knows as CORRODE, and currently called Project 572), it stipulated that there should be established a Canada-United States Military Study Group (MSG) which was to "study those aspects of the North American Air Defence system in general, and the early warning system in particular, which are of mutual concern to the two countries". 22 The MSG is assisted by a Canada-United States Scientific Advisory Team, which is usually referred to with aptness as CUSSAT.

2. The MSG commenced its studies during the summer of 1953 and in October of that year produced an interim report recommending that there be established at the earliest practicable date an early warning line located generally along the 55th parallel between Alaska and Newfoundland. 23 The purpose of this line, which is generally referred to as the "Mid-Canada Line", is to provide tactical early warning for the deployment of active air defence forces. Both the RCAF and the USAF Air Defence Commands consider this line to be essential to the effective utilization of their main radar installations and interceptor forces.

3. After considering the MSG report of October, 1953, the Canadian Government, in November, 1953 agreed that the Mid-Canada Line should be established, that the RCAF, in consultation with the USAF, should carry out a detailed survey of the line, and that Canada should undertake the planning and construction of the line without prejudice to a later decision on the division of costs. 24

4. Immediately thereafter an RCAF-USAF team was set up to carry out the necessary surveys and engineering studies and to make a more precise estimate of the costs. This team was to have completed its work by June 1, 1954, but it is understood that it has submitted an interim report indicating that it will not be finished until September 1954. It is also understood that the interim report indicates that contrary to expectations that the line might be built by the end of 1956, an additional year will be required. The provisional cost estimates range from $100 million to $200 million, depending upon a number of factors which have yet to be resolved. We have learned unofficially that the would-be users of the line, both Canadian and American, are very concerned at this development, and that the U.S. Government may make representations at a high level to see if anything can be done to speed the project. (The Air Defence Commands feel that the high cost estimates indicate that the engineers are designing a system which is too "sophisticated", and that this is one of the principal causes for the undesirable time lag.)

5. In the meantime the MSG has continued its study of the general problem of early warning, and in particular the necessity for and value of a distant early warning line across the Canadian Arctic. The concept upon which both U.S. and Canadian air defence plans are based is that the settled part of the continent, and particularly the major target areas, are blanketed with the heavy radar necessary to control active interceptor forces. On the periphery of this main defence area is a tactical early warning line at a distance scientifically calculated to enable fighters to get airborne and intercept an unknown aircraft at the forward edge of the main radar zone. The Mid-Canada Line forms part of this tactical early warning system. The United States, for its part, has already started on the establishment of a ship and airborne radar line down both coasts of the United States, about 150 miles off shore.

6. The warning system described above, essential though it be for active air defence measures, is quite inadequate to meet the needs of the Strategic Air Command, the other military services, and civil defence. For this purpose, a distant early warning line to give the maximum possible notice of attack is required. The United States has already embarked on a plan to provide the seaward elements of this distant early warning line by establishing at enormous cost combined ship and airborne radar lines from Argentia to the Azores and from Kodiak to Hawaii. As an indication of the scale of this project, the number of Super-Constellation aircraft required for the Argentia-Azores line will be forty. Eleven of these will be in the air at all times. Eighty of these aircraft will be used on the Kodiak-Hawaii line.

7. From Argentia, up the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts to Frobisher, the distant early warning line is provided by the radars already built under the Pinetree Agreement. On the West coast, the Alaska Radar system will cover the Arctic approaches from Kodiak to Barter Island. It is the gap between Barter Island to Frobisher that the United States is anxious to close as quickly as possible.

8. The Military Study Group, after consideration of agreed intelligence estimates, the preliminary reports on Project 572, and studies carried out by CUSSAT, could not escape the conclusion that there was a need for the establishment of the Canadian Arctic segment of the distant early warning line, and that in view of the time which would be required to overcome the many problems involved, a start should be made at once. The Group was dissatisfied with the Frobisher-Argentia-Azores element of the line and directed CUSSAT to study the pros and cons of a line from Frobisher to Greenland and Iceland instead. It was agreed, however, that this did not affect the need to get on with the work in the Canadian Arctic.

9. The MSG, at a meeting held on June 2 and 3, 1954, therefore recommended to the Chiefs of Staff of the two countries that:

(a) The two Governments agree in principle to the need for the establishment of a distant early warning line across the most northerly practicable part of North America;

(b) mutually acceptable military characteristics be developed for such a line;

(c) appropriate system studies be initiated for the purpose of developing detailed recommendations on the specifications, types of equipment, overall system composition, cost estimates, manpower requirements and the exact location of such a line. (A guess-estimate of the cost is between $100 and $200 million.)

10. It can be expected that the United States Government will at once press for the adoption by the two governments of these recommendations. In fact the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development (Mr. Donald Quarles) is to be in Ottawa on June 11, and it is understood that he intends to discuss the matter with Dr. Solandt.

11. Assuming that the Canadian Government is prepared to approve in principle the MSG recommendation, it will be necessary to resolve a number of questions before reaching a decision as to the form of agreement with the United States. If it were decided that Canada should build the Mid-Canada Line and the United States should build the Distant Early Warning Line, then Canadian participation in the studies proposed in the MSG recommendation would be minimal. Such a policy would have the merit of being simple and no doubt would appeal to the RCAF, which is concerned about the rapid increase in the size of its continental defence commitments. It is understood that the Minister of Defence Production also favours this solution.

12. An alternative proposal which may commend itself would be to consider both lines as part of a single system, the costs of which would be shared on an agreed basis. The surveys and construction could be carried out under the supervision of a joint Canada-United States "task force" under command of a Canadian officer. Canada would be responsible for accounting and both countries would advance funds for construction in accordance with the agreed cost-sharing formula. In due course similar arrangements could be made for manning and operation of the two lines. Such a proposal has obvious political attractions and would strengthen Canadian operational control over the system. At the same time, it would ensure that the participation of the United States Government was on a scale sufficient to avoid recriminations as to the adequacy of the system in the event of penetration by an enemy force.

13. It is probable that unless the Department of External Affairs makes immediate efforts to interest the other departments concerned in the proposal outlined in paragraph 12, the end result will be that Canada will build and operate the Mid-Canada Line and the United States will build and operate the DEW line. 25

[W.H. Barton]

21Il n'a été possible de trouver aucun compte rendu de cette réunion. No record of this meeting was located.

22 Voir/See Volume 19, Document 700.

23 Voir/See FRUS, 1952-1954, Volume VI, Document 977, pp. 2105-2107.

24 Voir/See Volume 19, Document 724.

25 Note marginale :/Marginal note:
Mr Pearson : A paper is being prepared in the Department on various alternatives and should be ready for discussion with you before the weekend of June 12th. R.A. M[acKay]