Briefing on Poposed Radar Chains

Canadian External Relations - 1954


Volume #20 - 479.









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


[Ottawa], November 6th, 1954


Attached is a memorandum from DL(1) giving an account of General Foulkes' briefing to Officers of National Defence on above subject. I cannot but feel that General Foulkes gave his Officers quite an unfair impression of the discussion at Committee of the Chiefs of Staff. 38 Despite the report of the PJBD which was forwarded to the Chiefs of Staff and despite our letter† and memorandum,† pointing out the necessity of speedy action, the chairman deliberately kept the item off Chiefs of Staff agenda. He did however make a brief reference to it but intimated no action was required by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, pending consideration of the minutes of the PJBD at the next meeting of Cabinet Defence Committee. This would certainly have had the effect of delaying action on the American request. However, other members of the Committee pushed the Chairman into getting in contact that day with Admiral Radford and getting joint agreement between the two chairmen to refer the matter at once to the Military Study Group with a view of having a report ready for the next meeting of the Cabinet Defence Committee.

I feel also that General Foulkes' comments on the question of integration of the various radar chains and their effectiveness by no means fairly reflect the discussion at Chiefs of Staff Committee. Dr. Solandt did raise the question as to whether proper integration between the DEW line and the Mongoose (or mid-Canada line), but after looking more closely at the proposals, he later expressed himself as satisfied. True, the Military authorities have as yet no answer to IBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) which they predict for about 1962. But the technical people, including the RCAF seem to regard the radar chains, when "thickened up", plus replacement of the CF-100's with CF-105's and equipping of Air Defence Forces with the new self-propelled and "homing" weapons now being developed, are essential and reasonably effective for the time being.

I think General Foulkes' comments on our draft memorandum for Cabinet Defence Committee are also uncalled for. I suspect his real objection is not the contents of the memorandum but the fact that it came from External Affairs. The Chief of the Air Staff, the Vice-Chief of the Air Staff and Dr. Solandt all expressed privately favourable comments on our memorandum.

The real issue which seems to be shaping up is in simple terms whether the Government is to be guided by General Foulkes' opinion as to the urgency attached by the U.S. to the DEW line or the opinion of the U.S. Section of the PJBD who presumably spoke for the U.S. Administration.

R.A. M[acKay]


Note du chef de la 1re Direction de liaison avec la Défense pour le sous-secrétaire d'État adjoint aux Affaires extérieures

Memorandum from Head, Defence Liaison (1) Division, to Assistant Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs

[Ottawa], November 5, 1954



At this morning's briefing, the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff, gave a pessimistic review of his own thinking, which, I gathered, is shared by the Chiefs of Staff, on the development of the Mid-Canada and the Distant Early Warning Lines, and, in particular, External Affairs' draft submission to Cabinet Defence Committee which would authorize the U.S. to proceed with preliminary work on the DEW line. Since it is difficult to reconstruct his remarks in a coherent commentary, I have set them out, as he gave them, in a series of assertions.

(a) General Foulkes felt certain that Cabinet Defence Committee would not approve External Affairs' submission to authorize the U.S. to proceed with the DEW line until the MSG had completed its studies regarding the location of the entire line, composition, etc. It is to settle at least some of these questions that the MSG had been called together this week. Until these answers are available it will be impossible to arrive at a realistic estimate of costs, manpower, etc., which will enable the Canadian Government to decide on the extent to which it intends to participate in the construction and operation of the line.

(b) General Foulkes and the Chiefs of Staff were not, as yet, convinced that the Pinetree, Mid-Canada and the DEW lines fit into an integrated system which will offer the most effective and most economic warning network. At present, for example, the Mid-Canada line is being designed only for detection of aircraft, while DEW line planning calls for equipment which will identify as well as detect. If, then, the DEW line is able to provide warning of numbers, direction, speed, etc., of invading aircraft which will permit the SAC and interceptor forces to get into action, why bother with the Mid-Canada line when the Pinetree Chain will give final, and probably adequate, information on the probable targets of the invading forces. One must also take into account, he continued, the fact that Canada has extremely inadequate interceptor forces. Apparently, when the Chief of the General Staff asked how many of 150 invading jet bombers the RCAF could "kill", the Chief of the Air Staff replied "Probably three". What good, therefore, is the Mid-Canada line when there is little we can do?

(c) From this pessimistic thought, General Foulkes sank into an even deeper pessimism. As a recent J.I.C. paper† concluded, he noted, there is little likelihood of war for the next two years - roughly the period required to build the Mid-Canada and the DEW lines. Shortly after this time, we will be in the era of inter-continental missiles which will probably reach altitudes higher than the 100,000-foot capability listed as the "1965 requirement" for the DEW Line in the Report of the USAF-RCAF Military Characteristics Committee DEW Group† (which will be considered at the 570th Meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Monday, November 8, 1954). Is it not possible, therefore, that the proposed Mid-Canada and DEW lines are of questionable value?

(Although he didn't mention it this morning, I understand that General Foulkes has also made the point that, even though the plans for the DEW Line call for "the capability of being adapted to control of weapons" (recommended as a "1965 Requirement" in the Report mentioned in the foregoing paragraph), it is doubtful that the guided interceptor missiles would be capable of the speeds, altitudes, etc., necessary to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles, even if they could be detected.)

(d) The RCAF has been working on the assumption, according to General Foulkes, that the DEW Line will be constructed, financed and manned by the U.S. This, he considers, is completely incorrect since he believes that the Canadian Government would wish to participate. Otherwise the Mid-Canada Line will be referred to as the "Canadian Line", the DEW Line will be called the "American Line", and Canadians and Americans will get the impression that the U.S. was assuming responsibility for, and control of the Canadian Arctic.

(e) General Foulkes made a vague, off-hand remark to the effect that Western Electric, as the management contractor, is in this business for profit and has, therefore, an interest in promoting it as quickly as possible.

(f) As reported earlier this week, General Foulkes confirmed that Admiral Radford, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not as anxious to proceed with the far northern line as the U.S. Section P.J.B.D. had suggested at the October 1954 meeting. (Although I am not sure of this point, I got the impression from the General's remarks that Admiral Radford was also having doubts about the overall effectiveness and usefulness of the Pinetree-Mid-Canada and DEW lines.) General Foulkes concluded his comments on this aspect by stating that he was not at all clear from the P.J.B.D. conference "what the U.S. actually want".

(g) General Foulkes concluded the briefing with the urgent directive that the RCAF immediately prepare a submission to Cabinet, or Cabinet Defence Committee, concerning the extensions of the Mid-Canada line westward from the Alberta-B.C. boundary, and eastward from Hopedale in Labrador. 39

Benjamin Rogers


Le sous-secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures au président du Comité des chefs d'état-major

Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs to Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee

Ottawa, October 26, 1954

Dear General Foulkes,


As the military members of the Canadian Section of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence have no doubt informed you, at the meeting held on October 18 and 19 the U.S. Section of the Board stated that on the basis of the latest report received from the Western Electric Company, the United States now considered that the feasibility of constructing an effective Distant Early Warning System at a reasonable cost had been established and that the technical and logistic data necessary to start work on the sites during the 1955 construction season was available. The U.S. plan envisaged that construction and installation of equipment would be completed by March, 1957, and that operational testing of the line would begin by July, 1957. If this schedule were to be met it would be necessary for the two governments to reach agreement at once on the initial arrangements for the construction of the line since the management contractor would have to start immediately to place orders for heavy equipment, begin procurement of supplies and negotiate transportation contracts. In particular the air lift would have to be completed before the spring break-up next May or June and steps would have to be taken to supplement existing facilities on the Mackenzie River system and along the Arctic coast from Tuk Tuk to Cambridge Bay.

2. The Canadian Chairman said that the Canadian Section of the Board would present to the Canadian Chiefs of Staff the information furnished by the U.S. Section with respect to the estimated cost of the project, the man-power implications and other details which would affect the Canadian decision on the subject. (I understand that the RCAF Member is submitting a report to you on these matters). General McNaughton also told the U.S. Section that the Canadian Section would seek to have the Canadian Government reach a decision on the terms under which the Canadian Government might authorize the construction of that part of the system to be situated in Canada and on the question of Canadian participation in the project.

3. In order to facilitate consideration of the U.S. proposal I have had prepared the attached draft memorandum to the Cabinet Defence Committee. It is appreciated that it may be necessary to modify it, possibly substantially, to reflect the views of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Department of National Defence. I propose that the draft might be discussed at the next meeting of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, following which we might submit the memorandum with any agreed revisions to our Ministers for approval.

4. I am circulating copies of the draft memorandum to the Deputy Ministers of Defence Production, Northern Affairs, Transport, National Revenue, Citizenship and Immigration, and Labour. In my letters to these Departments I will emphasize that the draft has not yet been considered either by the Chiefs of Staff Committee or by the Ministers of National Defence and External Affairs.

Yours sincerely,

Jules Léger


Projet d'une note du secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures pour le Comité du Cabinet sur la défense

Draft Memorandum from Secretary of State for External Affairs to Cabinet Defence Committee

[Ottawa, November, 1954]



Military developments during the past year have made it clear that the establishment of a comprehensive early warning system at the earliest possible date is vital for the protection against air attack of North American air bases required for launching retaliatory forces in event of attack, as well as for the protection of major centres of population and industry.

2. For this reason the Government decided, on June 30, 1954, that Canada should construct, operate, and meet the cost of the Mid-Canada early warning line. In addition, the Government, on August 18, 1954, agreed in principle to the need for the establishment of a distant early warning line across the most northerly practicable part of North America, without prejudice, however, to the extent of Canadian participation and subject to further review when preliminary studies had been completed and the details and cost of the undertaking were available.

3. The United States, for its part, initiated a project in 1953 (carried out by the Western Electric Co. and known successively as project Counterchange, Corrode and 572) to investigate ways of establishing a distant early warning line. In addition, the United States notified Canada through the Permanent Joint Board on Defence at the July 1954 meeting that it was taking steps to establish seaward extensions to the early warning system, from Kodiak to Hawaii, and from Argentia to the Azores. Subsequently, when Canada informed the United States of its agreement in principle to the need for a distant early warning line, the Canadian Government expressed concern that the seaward extension on the Atlantic side should provide as much early warning as possible and be compatible with the land-based early warning system.

United States Proposal

4. At the October, 1954, meeting of the PJBD, the U.S. Section of the Board stated that on the basis of the latest report received from the Western Electric Co., the United States now considered that the feasibility of constructing an effective distant early warning line at a reasonable cost had been established, and that the technical and logistic data necessary to start work on the sites during the 1955 construction season was available. If this were done the U.S. Government believed that it was possible for the system to be operating in 1957.

5. The Western Electric Company, which the United States proposes to appoint as management contractor, estimates that the total cost of the line, from Cape Lisburne, in North-Western Alaska, to Resolution Island in Hudson Strait, would be $200 million (see Appendix "A").† The line would consist of a combination of scanning radars and modified McGill fence equipment, and its operation is estimated to involve from 700 to 1000 men (For details of personnel requirements see Appendix "B").† The principal communication channels to the Air Defence Commands would be through radio relay stations at Hay River and Churchill.

6. The plan developed by the Western Electric Company to meet the target date of 1957 is dependent on being able to carry out all construction and major installation work during the 1955 and 1956 construction seasons, which in northern latitudes are very short. The plan envisages that construction and installation of equipment would be completed by March, 1957, and that operational testing of the line would begin by July, 1957. Four major approach routes would be used for the movement of supplies. Supplies for the section from Western Alaska to the Mackenzie delta would be brought in by ship from the Pacific Coast. Materials for the section from the mouth of the Mackenzie as far east as approximately Cambridge Bay would be brought in via the Mackenzie River. Materials for the eastern portion of the line would be supplied by ship from the Atlantic coast. In addition it would be necessary to move materials required at the beginning of the 1955 season by rail to Churchill, and from there by air to Cambridge Bay and Coral Harbour (see Appendix "C").†

7. The United States representatives emphasized that if the schedule planned by Western Electric was to be met if would be necessary to start at once to place orders for heavy equipment, begin procurement of supplies, and negotiate transportation contracts. In particular the airlift would have to be completed before the spring break-up next May or June, and steps would have to be taken to supplement existing facilities on the Mackenzie river system, and along the Arctic coast from Tuk Tuk to Cambridge Bay.

Intergovernmental Arrangements

10. The chairman of the U.S. Section of the Board said that if the time schedule contemplated by the United States was to be met, it would be necessary for the two Governments to reach early agreement on the initial arrangements for the construction of the line. The United States was prepared to accept full responsibility for the project but it would welcome Canadian participation on any basis which the Canadian Government might propose. He said the U.S. Government was aware that Canada had accepted a heavy commitment in undertaking to construct the Mid-Canada Line and appreciated that for this reason Canadian participation in the Distant Early Warning project might necessarily be limited. He added that the U.S. Government and Western Electric, its proposed management contractor, in awarding sub-contracts for the various elements of the project, and in the procurement of supplies, would wish to take fullest advantage of all available resources both in Canada and the United States. It was intended to establish a project office in New York, and the participation of Canadian agencies in this project office would be welcomed as a means of ensuring that full use was made of Canadian resources.

Location of the DEW System

11. When the question of the compatibility of the land based early warning system with that over the Atlantic approach route was raised, the U.S. Section said that the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved the Fourth Interim Report of the Canada-U.S. Military Study Group, which recommended that comprehensive studies be initiated regarding extensions to cover flanking approach routes to ensure that all segments of the distant early system were developed in a timely and compatible manner. These studies (with Canadian participation) had already been launched. However the final selection of the Atlantic seaward detection system hinged on the question of feasibility, and until the various alternatives had been fully investigated, it would not be possible to settle the matter.

12. It is understood that the combined U.S.-Canadian Location Study Team is satisfied with the general route of the DEW line from Alaska as far east as approximately Cambridge Bay, but is concerned about the section from Cambridge Bay to Resolution Island for two reasons:

(a) the southward bend in line reduces the amount of early warning;

(b) if the western end of the Atlantic seaward extension were shifted from Argentia to Greenland, then the eastern terminus of the land section should, if possible, be closer to Greenland, e.g., Padloping Island or Frobisher Bay instead of Resolution Island.

13. It is almost certain that if the eastern section of the line were to be moved further north it would run into terrain problems which would either greatly increase construction difficulties or necessitate re-routing and lengthening the line. This would of course be reflected in the cost of the project.

Factors Affecting Decision of Canadian Government

14. The first question to be decided by Canada is whether or not it is prepared to concur in the immediate initiation of the project. It would seem that there are two possible reasons for deferring authorization to begin construction:

(a) insufficient information on costs, manpower requirements, site locations, technical data, etc.;

(b) absence of any firm indication that the Atlantic seaward extension will be compatible with the land based system.

15. The adequacy and precision of the information now available as a basis for immediate initiation of the project is certainly open to question. It is doubtful however, that even a year's further study would significantly affect much of the data already at hand, and the answers to many of the problems involved can only be found through experience. The location of the eastern part of the line is an immediate problem, but one which can be expected to be resolved within a relatively short period. If this is the case, then the United States proposal to start at once on initial construction arrangements is defensible.

16. Assuming that the United States will select the best possible feasible route for the Atlantic seaward extension, then the question of whether its compatibility with the land-based system should affect the decision to initiate construction of the Distant Early Warning line would seem to hinge on whether the early warning line is of sufficient value to justify construction even if the United States comes to the conclusion that for the present at least the western terminus of the sea line must remain at Argentia. The United States, of course, believes that it is of sufficient value and should be constructed at once.

17. If it is decided that Canada should concur in the immediate initiation of the project, the next question is whether it is to be the sole responsibility of the United States, or whether Canada should participate in one way or another. The main argument in favour of Canadian participation is political and relates to the fact that failing such participation the United States will be operating a continuous chain of radar stations and communications facilities in Canada from the Alaska-Yukon border across the Canadian Arctic and down the Atlantic Coast to Cape Race. Stemming from this situation is the question of whether, under such circumstances, the Canadian Air Defence Commander would be able properly to exercise the control function assigned to him by the agreement on the principles of command currently in effect between the military authorities of the two countries. 40

18. It is suggested that in any case, if Canada is to participate, it should be in the operation rather than the construction of the system. Construction work will be essentially civilian in character and many of the sub-contractors will undoubtedly be Canadian. Any benefits which might accrue to Canada through accepting responsibility for part of the cost of construction would seem at best to be transitory.

19. The problem of how the system is to be manned and operated is complicated and will require study. The United States Air Force is giving some consideration to the possibility of civilian manning through a management contractor. If this were to be done the military role would presumably be limited to command and control, and the number of service personnel involved might be quite small. However there are obvious disadvantages to entrusting remote and important defence installations of this sort to civilians not subject to military discipline and possibly susceptible to labour unrest. It is considered therefore that if Canada concurs in the immediate construction of the system it should be on the understanding that the question of whether the system, or any of its parts, should be operated by military personnel or entrusted to a civilian agency should be a master for consultation between the two Governments. Likewise, the question of Canadian participation in the operation and manning of the system should be specified as a matter for later decision by Canada after full consultation with the United States.


20. The Secretary of State for External Affairs, with the concurrence of the Minister of National Defence, recommends:

(a) that Canada should concur in the construction by the United States of a Distant Early Warning system in Canadian territory, subject to the customary conditions governing United States defence projects in Canada;

(b) that Canada should reserve its position with respect to Canadian participation in the operation and manning of the system, and with respect to whether the line should be operated by military or civilian personnel;

(c) that the Canadian Ambassador in Washington should be authorized to deliver to the State Department the draft Note and Annex attached as Appendix "D" to this memorandum. 41

[L.B. Pearson]

38 En ce point du mémoire, MacKay a biffé la phrase suivante :
and that he is deliberately prejudicing early action by Cabinet Defence Committee on the U.S. request about the DEW Line.
    At this point in the memorandum, MacKay crossed out the following phrase:
and that he is deliberately prejudicing early action by Cabinet Defence Committee on the U.S. request about the DEW Line.

39 Note marginale :/Marginal note:
Mr. Léger
1. Chiefs long ago approved the need for both DEW & mid-Canada.
2. External tried & failed to persuade Foulkes & Cabinet to postpone the decision that Canada pay for the mid-Canada line - precisely because we wanted the financing of both lines to be considered at one & the same time. It was Foulkes who insisted on announcing the Canadian decision to build & pay for the Mid-Canada line.
3. I don't believe Radford. Dr. Hannah said he spoke for the U.S. Government & I believe him. M. Wershof

40 Voir/See Joseph Jockel, No Boundaries Upstairs: Canada, the United States, and the Origins of North American Air Defence, 1945-58, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987, pp. 53-59.

41 La note provisoire et l'annexe constituent le document 483. Le paragraphe 5, la sous-section (d) et les deux dernières phrases du paragraphe 15 (garantissant le droit de l'ARC d'utiliser les terrains d'atterrissage américains) ont été ajoutées à la dernière version de ce document.
   The draft note and annex is reproduced as Document 483. Paragraph 5, sub-section (d) and the final two sentences of paragraph 15 (ensuring the right of the RCAF to use U.S. air strips) were added to the latter version of this document.