Alaskan Air Defenses


contributed by Al Grobmeier

Above is a graphic from an Aleutian Islands airline, which shows the location of the various military sites on the island chain.

[Excerpts from the "Air Defense In Alaska" page, located at [This link is no longer active] If anyone has further information on any of the coastal AC&W sites in Alaska, we urge you to contact us and help us document the sites.

"... Contracts were awarded during the spring of 1950, and work was started shortly afterwards on constructing a line of coastal surveillance, interior ground control and intercept and control center radar sites known as the AC&W system.

"The Korean War provided more funding, and AAC decided to build two additional ground controlled intercept sites to cover radar gaps in the interior. Since the two sites selected, Sparrevohn and Indian Mountain, were accessible only by air, and contract costs were potentially high, AAC elected to use military construction units. Work was begun on the two sites during the summer of 1951.

"Murphy Dome and Fire Island became operational in September 1951 as control center sites. They were followed by King Salmon (control center), November 1951; Tatalina and Campion (ground control and intercept), April 1952; Cape Lisburne, February 1953; Cape Romanzof, Tin City, and Northeast Cape (all surveillance sites), April 1953; Indian Mountain, November 1953; Sparrevohn, March 1954; and Cape Newenham (surveillance), April 1954. Additional surveillance sites were later added. Kotzebue and Ohlson Mountain (near Homer) became operational in February 1958, Middleton Island in May 1958, Unalakleet in April 1958 and Bethel in July 1958. Fort Yukon became operational as a ground control intercept site in April 1958. ...

"... The surveillance sites at Bethel, Middleton Island, and Ohlson Mountain were closed on 15 May 1963, leaving a void in the radar coverage to the south. Headquarters Alaskan Air Command, and, to some extent the Alaskan Command, provided command and control until the reactivation of an AC&W control group in 1977.

"In 1969, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed a reduction in air defense forces. As a result, the Fire Island NORAD control center and the NORAD surveillance sites at Unalakleet and Northeast Cape closed during the last half of 1969. The Aleutian DEW line segment was deactivated on 30 September 1969. The main site at Cold Bay was converted to a NORAD surveillance site. ...

"... With the closure of Fire Island, King Salmon assumed responsibility as the NORAD control center for the entire southern sector of the Alaskan NORAD Region.

"Campion was converted from a NORAD control center to a ground-controlled intercept station in mid-1973, following an ANR study to reduce manpower positions. At the same time, Kotzebue was converted from a ground-controlled intercept site to a surveillance station. Murphy Dome became responsible for the northern sector. ...

"... By the 1970s, the aircraft control and warning system had become expensive to maintain and was obsolete. In July 1973, Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen John D. Ryan, made a personal inspection of the system. The following year, the Air Staff released its Saber Yukon study, which recommended that the system be modernized. As a result, AAC was included in the Electronic Systems Division-managed program to replace the SAGE system with a joint USAF-FAA use Region Operations Control Center/Joint Surveillance System (ROCC/JSS). The command also initiated another program to replace the site radars with minimally attended radars. The Alaskan-unique Seek Igloo program, as it became known, was also managed by the Electronic Systems Division.

"Construction of the Alaskan ROCC, or "Top ROCC," was begun in 1980. It achieved initial operational capability on 14 June 1983, and fully operational capability on 15 September 1983.

"Canadian manning was provided in the ROCC as part of a joint agreement. On 18 September 1986, Brig Gen Ronald Bell, Canadian Forces, became the first full time Deputy Commander, ANR with responsibilities for day-to-day operations. The duties had formerly belonged to the Vice Commander, AAC as an added duty.

"Since all the radar data was remoted back to the ROCC from the 13 sites, the large number of personnel at the sites were no longer needed. All military personnel were phased out by September 1983. The 13 AC&W squadrons were inactivated 1 November 1983. The AC&W sites were redesignated long range radar sites.

"A small number of contract civilian personnel remained at the sites to provide maintenance. The site operating support functions had been contracted to RCA Services in 1977, as part of an Air Force-wide effort to reduce remote tours and cost.

"The final phase of the radar modernization phase was completed in 1985 with the change out of the radars for the AN/FPS-117 minimally attended radars (MARs). As denoted by the acronym MAR, the new radar required far less personnel than the old ones. Additionally, they had both a search and height-finding capability.

"Campion was closed in favor of locating the new radar to Galena where it would require less personnel to maintain. The old Cold Bay site was also closed, and a new site was built nearer the Cold Bay Airport. Both relocations were done to save personnel and transportation costs.

"The FPS-117 intended for Murphy Dome was diverted to a demonstration program, and the AN/FPS-97 surveillance radar was left in place. It was later replaced with an FPS-117. Because of Seek Igloo program, Murphy Dome could no longer be used as an alternate command center. The Alaskan Air Command, as a replacement, acquired donated rail cars from the Alaska Railroad and converted them into an alternate command center. The rail based center was routinely deployed during exercises until 1993 when its use was discontinued. ..."

Office of History
11th Air Force
March 1996

Contributed by Tom Page.

Other Alaska Radar Pages

Remote Alaska Pages
Tin City AFS, AK Staff Meeting notes from 1958-59
Alaska Chain - the Alaskan Radar Network
Alaska Norad Region (Operations)
Alaska Radar System - Current information on the sites

Email note:

From: "Joe Stevens, WL7AML"
Subject: Alaska AC&W, WACS, etc.

I was told that you might be interested in my web pages at which discusses two AC&W sites - Chiniak and Sitkinak, Alaska as well as the Kodiak WACS site. You may find the book CHINIAK by Tony Smaker interesting. It discusses the early days of the AF tracking station at Chiniak which was built from a AC&W site.

I would like to add more about Sitkinak but it is very remote. If I can get photos of Sitkinak from other locals, I will include whatever I get.

Neither of these AC&W sites were activated as such. Sitkinak was abandoned after being constructed but Chiniak was converted immediately into a satellite tracking and control site.


Joe Stevens
Kodiak, Alaska