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CHAPTER ONE: Pre-deployment - The 1940s

The decade of the 1940s, from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the Soviet Union's first atomic detonation in 1949, set the stage for the formation of ARADCOM. Significant refinements to air warfare and, concurrently, to air defense were realized during the Second World War. Then, in the latter half of the decade, the threat posed by the Soviet Union's aggressiveness and its success with nuclear arms produced the Cold War. The United States responded by deploying, over the following decades, a vast air defense network to protect its population centers, industrial base and strategic forces from air attack.

The primary event that led the United States into World War II, the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, left an imprint on nearly every American. Many Americans believed the attack resulted from a lack of strategic vigilance, and for decades afterward, they sought to prevent a recurrence. The most immediate reaction to the threat of air attack against the North American continent came in the form of mobilized civilians who, during World War II, volunteered to watch the skies over the United States. One and a half million volunteers of the Ground Observer Corps provided early warning in case enemy aircraft should attack. The Ground Observer Corps, together with newly activated antiaircraft units, fighter squadrons and radar sites, comprised all the major components of the vast air defense network that would be developed in the years to come.

During the war, the overseas battlefield became a part of the larger weapons laboratory. As aircraft technology improved, allowing planes to fly higher and faster, and new strategic weapons of terror and mass destruction fell on England, concomitant improvements were made to antiaircraft weaponry. Significant to the history of ARADCOM was the introduction and improvement of gun directors during the war. These gun directors linked the technologies of rudimentary computers, range finders and radars. These devices enabled antiaircraft batteries to destroy hostile aircraft, even when those who operated the guns could not see their targets. The directors provided a continuous stream of fire control data that was transmitted electronically to the guns. These calculations predicted a likely intercept point, if the target continued on the same course. These combinations of guns, directors and radars (plus the variable time [VT] fuse [see Chapter Two]) were most effective against targets that could not maneuver, such as the German V-I "Buzz Bomb."

However, when engaged, maneuverable targets would dive, climb, turn, speed up, slow down or perform a combination of moves. Since the shells fired from antiaircraft guns could not maneuver, the logical next step was to find a projectile that could.

Even before the end of the Second World War, major research firms conducted feasibility studies to determine if ground-launched guided missiles could intercept aircraft. Initially they used the same fire control equipment perfected during the war. Another event that would significantly impact on ARADCOM happened during the last months of World War II, when Germany introduced the first ballistic missile, the V-2.

The V-2 was a formidable weapon by any standard. This 46-foot tall, l4-ton behemoth could travel from its launch sites in Nazi-occupied Holland and impact in downtown London in five minutes, reaching speeds of 3,500 miles per hour on the way. Planning on countermeasures to the new ballistic-missile threat started almost immediately. However, ARADCOM would never realize a defense against ballistic missiles, even though it would be heavily involved during the '60s and '70s in the study, development and fielding of America's first and short-lived antiballistic missile system.

The Soviet Threat

In the latter half of the 1940s, as America and the rest of the world began to recover after the war, the portents of yet another war loomed on the horizon. Communism expanded from the Soviet Union westward into Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Berlin Blockade, which the United States countered with the Berlin Airlift, was another example of Soviet aggression. And in the Far East, the Communist forces under Mao Tse-tung wrestled U.S.-backed nationalist forces under Chaing Kai-shek for China.

The leader of the oldest communist nation, Joseph Stalin, maintained that world peace was impossible under the capitalistic development of world economy. The Soviets adhered to the Marxist view that conflict between capitalism and communism was inevitable.

By the end of World War II, the Soviets had lost millions of people and witnessed the virtual destruction of many of their cities. But they had gained in the ability to wage modern warfare through the acquisition and reproduction of modern weaponry like the Tu-4 "Bull" bomber, a copy of the U.S. B-29; the capture of German scientists, who would help them develop atomic weapons and missiles; and the conduct of scientific and industrial espionage. The impact on the United States would be two fold: first, the Tu-4 gave the Soviets the capability to strike the United States by flying over the North Pole, and second, once they developed the atom bomb, they could visit massive destruction on the United States with just a few sorties, as the United States had done to Japan with its bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Nation

After World War II, most Americans were preoccupied with cashing in on the postwar economic boom. For those whose loved ones had fallen in battle, the sacrifices had been great, but on the whole, the United States had emerged from the war in much better shape than it had entered the war. Riding on the crest of victory, most Americans considered the United States invulnerable and were slow to respond to the ill-defined postwar threat. For several years America had no defense at all from air attack. Not until the threat became better defined would American citizens deviate from their single-minded pursuit of prosperity and affluence.

The following passage from History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense - 1945-1955, prepared by the Braddock, Dunn and McDonald (BDM) Corporation for the Office, Chief of Military History, Department of Defense, describes America's post-World War II posture:

The postwar national strategy saw the United States abandon its tradition of isolationism for collective security through the United Nations and continued cooperation with its war-time allies in the occupation of the lands of their former enemies. It was generally accepted in 1955 that the key elements of future U.S. strategy would be: (1) support for the United Nations . . ., (2) forward deployment in both the Atlantic and Pacific, (3) relatively strong Air and Naval forces in being, (4) continuation of the U.S. monopoly of atomic weapons..., (5) a small Regular Army and (6) a large well-organized reserve of citizen soldiers.

This strategy fit the mood of the American people at that time and, indeed, it is doubtful if any more militant strategy could have been possible in face of the overwhelming desire to buy the cars and build the houses and raise the families that wartime conditions had precluded. There was a widespread feeling among Americans that all enemies were defeated in World War II, and that the prestige that American military might had accrued in the war would deter any future enemies.

At the national level in the United States, the decision makers were hardheaded realists who recognized that the overwhelming concern of the American people was for their own economic and domestic policies. President Harry Truman placed a budget ceiling on the cost of the U.S. armed forces and adamantly refused to raise it despite repeated requests from his key national security advisors. He did not concern himself overmuch with the way the military services divided up that budget or what they bought with it, as long as they carried out the strategy and remained within the austere budgetary limitations he imposed.

Due to the austere military budgets and reliance on the mobilization system, there was little thinking or planning for any future war except the "big war." Military planners and leaders were oriented toward a major war in Europe. They expected to employ strategic air power with nuclear weapons and project mobilized U.S. military strength overseas to fight another total war. It was not anticipated that the Soviet Union would develop atomic weapons until 1952, 50 the postwar strategy was believed to be valid for some years. U.S. military forces were not ready for the events that occurred after 1947.

The Military

While the civilian population was content to return to normalcy, military leaders looked at lessons learned from the war as a guide for the future. Two major lessons were that a surprise attack must not be allowed and that air defenses were effective against air attacks.

One of the first orders of business after the war was a detailed and highly publicized investigation of the circumstances surrounding the success of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Among the results of the investigation was the revelation that radar had successfully detected the approach of the Japanese air fleet, but that administrative failure and breakdown had negated the value of that tactical warning. The principal lesson learned was "don't be surprised!" National defense strategists, as a result, worked under the assumption that World War III, like World War II, would start with a surprise attack.

The study of World War II also concluded that, although air attack could seriously damage the war-making infrastructure of a country, as in the case of Japan, an effective air defense could keep a country's capability intact, as demonstrated by Britain and Germany. The British survived massed bomber attacks during the Blitz and, later in the war, weathered Hitler's V-I and V-2 rockets while maintaining and improving their industrial capacity, principally because Germany targeted Britain's population centers rather than its industrial capacity.

British and American strategic bombers devastated the German heartland during the great bomber offensives that served as a prelude to the Allied invasion of the continent, but at a very high cost to Allied aircrews. The German air defense of the homeland contained some basic flaws, but by the end of 1944, was the most formidable the world had ever seen. The German mix of antiaircraft guns, interceptors and night fighters inflicted casualties that approached unacceptable levels.

Surprisingly, postwar surveys revealed that Germany actually increased production during 1944 and 1945, while its industrial centers were under the massed attacks of the greatest bomber forces ever assembled. The German air defense example left the U.S. air defenders with the belief that it was possible to organize an air defense system that could protect the industrial base and inflict unacceptable losses on an attacking strategic force.

The strategic air attack on Japan presented the "worst case" example of just what can happen to a civilian population and an industrial base when an effective air defense is absent. Japan spent its air power far from the home islands. When U.S. B-29s arrived in strength over the home islands, they were virtually unopposed in the air. In fact, the leader of B-29 forces stated that the air over Japan was safer than that over training bases in the United States. The air defenders in the U. S. military forces took the lesson of Japan to heart.

World War II, then, encouraged a belief in a global war started by surprise attack and strongly implanted a relatively new belief in the necessity of providing effective defenses for the industrial base in the continental United States.

Those entrusted with national defense struggled with many difficult decisions, not the least of which was the role each service would play in peacetime. The Army Ground Forces and the Army Air Forces battled over the ownership of antiaircraft artillery (AAA). The Army Air Force argued that since it was responsible for controlling the skies, any weapons used in aerial warfare should belong to it, especially for command and control reasons to prevent fratricide. The Ground Forces countered that antiaircraft provided defense of ground targets from air strike and would therefore be employed more effectively by those it was to protect. Antiaircraft guns also had the additional capability of being used as field artillery to support the ground forces. The Ground Forces had spent more of its resources developing antiaircraft weaponry; moreover, antiaircraft units were linked by lineage and tradition to the old Coast Artillery branch, resulting in well-established ties and loyalties to the Army's ground forces. Even after the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) rejected the then newly-formed Air Force's demand for AAA at the Key West Conference in March 1948, the debate lingered and continued into the 1950s. It finally devolved into a control issue once it was clear that the Army would retain AAA forces.

The military establishment worried about the growing Soviet threat in the last half of the 1940s. The intercontinental capability of the Bull bomber had a minor impact on U.S. air defense strategy compared to the announcement in August 1949 that the Soviets had detonated their first atomic bomb, three to four years ahead of the schedule anticipated by U.S. defense planners. The Bull and the bomb meant the Soviets now possessed the capability of causing mass destruction within the United States.

In the years preceding this detonation, the national leadership had taken some pro forma measures to defend against air attack. In 1946, the Air Force formed the Air Defense Command. Although it was initially overshadowed by the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and the Tactical Air Command (TAC), it grew in importance in proportion to the Soviet threat. However, it did suffer at the hands of those SAC proponents who argued that the best defense was a potent offense.

In mid-1948, an economic recession caused a budget deficit of $2 billion. As the congressional purse strings tightened, the Air Force concentrated on building up SAC at the expense of the other missions. To make the best use of all air resources in the continental United States (CONUS), rather than divide them among several commands, the Continental Air Command (ConAC) was established. ConAC received command of the six air forces formerly assigned to Air Defense Command and TAC, the Air National Guard and the Air Reserve. The Air National Guard's participation included 55 fighter squadrons flying P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts and nine light bomber groups flying A-26 Invaders. ConAC also actively pursued the establishment of an early warning system.

Army Air Defense

The Army's portion of continental air defense in the late '40s consisted mostly of National Guard units. In 1948, the National Guard was called upon to furnish 123 antiaircraft battalions to be ready by 1952. The greatly expanded National Guard AAA force, when fully organized, would have 809 separate units with 77,822 men deployed throughout 27 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

By 1948, four states (Alabama, Maine, Rhode Island and Texas) and the District of Columbia had organized all the antiaircraft units allotted them. Throughout the country, there were a total of 534 federally recognized antiaircraft units, or 66 percent of the 809 units in the entire troop base. They had an aggregate strength of more than 21,000 men, or 27 percent of their ultimate projected strength.

Project NIKE

Fortunately, back in 1945, the Army's Ordnance Corps had asked Bell Telephone Laboratories to study the likelihood of developing an antiaircraft system incorporating guided missiles. Since Bell Labs had produced the gun directors and radars that were so successful during the war, they naturally capitalized on that knowledge for Project NIKE.

On May 14, 1945, representatives of the Bell Telephone Labs gave a verbal report on the results of their study of a new AAA system that "envisioned development of a 1,000-pound guided missile, 19 feet long and 16 inches in diameter, with an effective range of 20,000 yards and an effective altitude of 60,000 feet. It was to be powered with an acid-aniline, liquid fuel rocket motor and was to attain a maximum velocity of 23,000 feet per second at the end of burning. The control system was to contain two radars - one tracking the target and the other tracking the air defense missile - and a computer for comparing the data from the radars." Amazingly, given the new technologies that would have to emerge, the NIKE AJAX system fielded just eight years later closely resembled this initial study.

Bell Lab's History of Engineering and Science explained their engineering approach to this project:

…development should not await the results of research projects that were still in a stage of uncertain success, such as those on ramjet engines, radically new fuels, and drastically flew guidance or homing techniques. Another axiom of the system design philosophy was that the expendable projectile should be as simple and inexpensive as possible, leaving the more complex and more expensive equipment on the ground.

Thus, the development of the many new or improved technologies required in rocketry, guidance and control would not use the building-block approach, perfecting one stage before going on to another. Rather, developers would work along parallel tracks, betting on each research field to come up with solutions to problems prior to integration of the entire system. This approach paid off in 1950 when the nation called upon the Army to protect vital areas in the United States from air attack. The Army needed only three years to deploy a NIKE missile system.


A passage from History of Strategic Air and Ballistic Missile Defense -1945-1955, prepared by the BMD Corporation for the Office, Chief of Military History, Department of Defense, summarizes the events of this decade:

The period from the end of World War II until the outbreak of the Korean War saw the development of the Cold War with Russia, which split the world into two hostile groups. The United States concentrated on the development of its economy and its monopoly of the atomic weapon at the expense of conventional military strength. However, even with the scare effect of the Russian atomic bomb, it is doubtful if the American public would have supported the increased taxes and spending that such an increase would demand. That public reluctance was significantly reduced after the Communists committed open aggression against South Korea. The Korean War provided the event that U.S. national leaders needed to raise U.S. armaments to the level that the world situation required.

The children of the Baby Boom were not, as their fathers who defeated Germany and Japan had imagined, destined to grow up in a non-threatening world. At home, their parents built backyard bomb shelters they would later convert into fallout shelters. During air raid drills, schoolchildren left their classrooms to huddle in darkened hallways. Announcements that "This station is about to conduct a test of the National Early Warning Broadcast System" interrupted the innocent melodies of the "Hit Parade." The Cold War had arrived, bringing with it the threat of undreamed horrors. It was to last nearly half a century, and for the greater part of the struggle, antiaircraft artillery men were to serve as front-line soldiers.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four