Continental Air Defence

Canadian External Relations - 1954


Volume #20 - 486.









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

Top Secret

[Ottawa], December 8th, 1954

Attached for your information is the first of two papers by Defence Liaison (1) Division dealing with the air defence of North America. It outlines the nature of the very large programme for the establishment of air defence installations in Canada which we expect will be put forward by the United States for the period 1955-1960. The second paper, which is now in course of preparation, will deal with the problems which the implementation of the programme would raise for Canada and will suggest some possible courses of action. 45

2. In preparing these papers extensive use has been made of information which has been obtained "at the working level" from officers of the RCAF and USAF Air Defence Commands. The Chiefs of Staff would of course object strenuously if they knew that the information obtained in this way was being used to depict a programme which has yet to be submitted to the Chiefs themselves, let alone approved by them. For this reason the papers are being marked for "External Affairs Eyes Only". Experience has shown, however, that previous prognostications of this type prepared in External Affairs had proved to be quite accurate and it seems to me that even with the necessary limitation on their circulation these papers are well worth preparing for use within the Department. 46

R.A. M[acKay]
for Under-Secretary of Statefor External Affairs


Note de la 1ere Direction de liaison avec la Défense

Memorandum by Defence Liaison (1) Division

Top Secret

External Affairs Eyes Only



1. On January 21, 1954, following a visit to Headquarters, USAF Air Defence Command, at Colorado Springs, the Canadian Section of the PJBD prepared a report summarizing the information obtained. The report stated:

"The most important conclusion to be drawn from all the discussions on the threat is that responsible United States officials are firmly of the opinion that the Soviet Union has now, or will have shortly, the capability of launching an atomic attack on North America on a scale sufficient to eliminate this continent as an effective source of resistance to the achievement of Soviet objectives. For this reason, the United States officials assert that, even to provide a margin of protection sufficient only to keep our losses to the point where we would have the ability to recuperate and retaliate, the North American air defence system must be greatly expanded and that it is necessary that this be done rapidly."

The report also stated that the features of the USAF presentation which the Canadian Section of the PJBD considered to be of most immediate importance to Canada were the expression of the United States Air Defence Command belief:

"(a) in the necessity for an early warning line along the Arctic coast from Alaska to Baffin Island in addition to the line along the 55th parallel;

(b) that integration of the North American air defence system is desirable;

(c) that the depth of the "combat area" should be increased. Presumably this would mean fighter or guided missile bases in Canada."

2. Since the PJBD report was prepared, the United States H-Bomb tests have demonstrated the incredible power of thermonuclear weapons, analyses of the Russian H-Bomb tests of a year ago have revealed that the Soviet Union has a weapon as powerful as that of the United States, and the Soviet high-performance jet bomber has made its bow (at the last May Day parade). For some years there has been general agreement in the United States that North American defences against air attack are inadequate and that this situation must be corrected as rapidly as possible, but these events of the past few months have had the effect of converting into enthusiastic supporters many responsible United States officials who had previously questioned the scale and timing of the programme proposed by the U.S. Air Defence Command. Particular importance is attached to the protection of the Strategic Air Command bases required for the launching of retaliatory forces.

Air Defence Plan

3. In the light of these facts it is clear that the United States will bend every effort during the next few years to build an air defence system capable of coping with high performance jet bombers armed with nuclear weapons. The main framework of this air defence system is already in being, but it still needs to have a roof put on it and be walled in. The basic plan, upon which the air defence experts of both countries are in general agreement should be in operation by 1960, is as follows:

(a) Establishment of a distant early warning line as far away from the settled parts of the continent as possible, and long enough so that it cannot be avoided by "end-running tactics." The ultimate objective on the Atlantic side would be to tie the line to the European warning system. In the Pacific it will run from Alaska to Hawaii, and ultimately it might be extended as far as Wake Island.

(b) Creation of a "combat area", with facilities for the control of intercepting aircraft and missiles, extending for as great a distance from the major target complexes as possible. The existing control facilities and interceptor bases are situated on the immediate fringe of the principal target areas. The next step will be to build a tactical early warning line about 400 miles ahead of existing installations. In Canada this will be the "Mongoose" or "55th parallel" line. In the United States sector this tactical early warning will be furnished by radar lines running down both the East and West coasts about 100-200 miles offshore and consisting of a combination of picket ships, (picket ships are small ships about the size of frigates or weather ships, equipped with radar and stationed at sea to detect aircraft approaching North America.) aircraft and "Texas Towers" (Texas towers are "islands" anchored to the bed of the continental shelf about 100 miles offshore and equipped with radar. They were named after the oil drilling towers used off the coast of Texas.). As rapidly as possible after the tactical early warning lines are established, the control area will be expanded by the installation of additional heavy radar, until it reaches the tactical early warning line, thus extending the combat zone by about 400 miles to the North and 200 miles to the East and West.

(c) Utilization of long-range interceptor aircraft and guided missiles to take advantage of the increased depth of the combat zone and to engage hostile aircraft at the greatest possible distance from their targets.

(d) Utilization of close-support interceptors and short-range "anti-aircraft" guided missiles in the protection of specific urban areas, key bases, etc.

Air Defence Programme

4. Implementation of this plan, particularly by the target date of 1960, will be a tremendous task, and can only be accomplished by the willing partnership of the two countries. The initial tasks which concern Canada directly are as follows:

(a) construction and operation of the Mongoose line by Canada - target date for operation January 1, 1957;

(b) construction and operation of DEW line along the Arctic coast, primarily by the United States but with Canadian participation - target date for operation mid-1957;

(c) modification of existing Pinetree radar stations to increase detecting height from 40,000 to 65,000 feet, the necessary equipment becoming available early in 1957;

(d) adoption of much more stringent civil air regulations to compel aircraft to cross radar lines through designated corridors and to file flight plans - this matter is now under discussion between the RCAF and the Department of Transport and will probably require enabling legislation.

5. In addition to the above projects, which are already "on the programme", it can be expected that the following proposals will be put forward within the next few months:

(a) installation of up to 110 semi-automatic gap-filler radars in the Pinetree system;

(b) construction of five additional heavy radar stations to improve the coverage over the Gulf of St. Lawrence;

(c) construction of eight heavy radar stations to close the gaps in the Pinetree chain between Manitoba and British Columbia, and the construction of six heavy radars north of the existing Pinetree stations in Northern Ontario to give added depth to the coverage in that area.

6. All the above measures are aimed at the improvement of warning and control facilities. There remains the question of how hostile aircraft can effectively be intercepted. The most immediate problem, of common concern to both the RCAF and the USAF, is that the long-range all-weather interceptor aircraft now in service do not have an effective ceiling high enough to engage jet bombers at the altitude at which the latter can be expected to operate. How long it will be before improved interceptors can come into service remains to be seen, although it is hoped that it will be possible to raise the ceiling of the CF-100 to 53,000 feet by 1956 and to 58,000 feet by 1958. It is doubtful that the new Canadian interceptor (CF-105) will be available until 1959.

7. The first anti-aircraft guided missiles (Nike) are now coming into service in the United States, and the Canadian Services are considered obtaining a supply for Canadian use. One consequence of the adoption of Nike by the United States is that the long-deferred problem of the defence of border cities, e.g. Detroit, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, and the stationing of U.S. anti-aircraft installations on Canadian territory, is likely to come to a head in the not-distant future.

8. At a later date - during the period 1959-1961 - the United States will be ready to proceed with the installation of long-range interceptor missiles, possibly armed with atomic war-heads. It may not be necessary for these G.M. units to be based in Canada, but the missiles themselves will be intended to function over Canadian territory, thus giving rise to difficult operational and control problems.

9. The United States has been giving a great deal of thought to the economics of air defence, and the current view in the U.S. Defence Department is that for the period prior to the time when the enemy can be expected to rely on inter-continental ballistic missiles, (a ballistic missile is one which is fired as a projectile and follows a ballistic trajectory, e.g. the V-2) the only way of obtaining a sufficiently high attrition rate at a cost which would be within the bounds of reason is for our continental defence forces to use atomic weapons against enemy aircraft. The primary weapons would be air-to-air missiles armed with atomic warheads. They would be carried by our long-range interceptors and fired at the enemy while he was over the uninhabited parts of the continent (i.e. Canada) and over the ocean approaches. The development of these weapons is already in hand and will be pressed forward as rapidly as possible. It is expected that they will come into service in the autumn of 1956.

The Outlook for the Future

10. It should be understood that all these measures, costly as they are, have only a transitory value. The day of the intercontinental ballistic missile is rapidly approaching, - current U.S. intelligence estimates assign to the Soviet Union the capability of having such a weapon in service by 1963 and possibly as early as 1960. Even if this estimate anticipates the event by a number of years the fact remains that within a relatively short period of time we shall be confronted with a weapon against which at this time there is no known effective defence.

Problems Facing the Canadian Government

11. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the programme outlined in this paper is not just a cloud on the horizon - it is a storm overhead. Over the period of the next five years the United States is going to press for the establishment in Canada of a series of costly defence installations. Stemming from this are a host of difficult problems with which the Canadian Government must come to grips. The following are some of the more important of these problems:

(a) To what extent will Canada have, as a measure of sovereignty, to participate financially in, and to man these installations?

(b) Where is the money and the manpower to be obtained, and to what extent will Canada have to reduce her NATO commitments to meet this requirement?

(c) Will the existing arrangements for command and control be adequate, and if not, what steps should Canada take to ensure that the air defence system operates with maximum effectiveness and that at the same time Canadian interests are protected?

(d) What is to be the Canadian policy with respect to the use of atomic weapons for defence and the arming of Canadian forces with atomic weapons?

12. In particular, the problem of command and control requires urgent consideration, since it will become increasingly difficult to modify current plans in the best interest of Canada as the costly programme for the provision of communications facilities advances during the coming year. A separate memorandum on this question is now being prepared.

45 Le second rapport sera reproduit dans le volume 21.
    The second paper will be reprinted in Volume 21.

46 Note marginale :/Marginal note:
    I suggest it would be inadvisable to mention this memo to your colleagues for the present at least. R.A. MacKay