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NORAD and the Soviet Nuclear Threat

The success of the “The Cold Warriors” article in The Beaver magazine indicated to me that a full account of NORAD would contribute to the history and understanding of the defence of Canada. The secret electronic wars fought in the skies above the “True North strong and free” should be recounted to Canadians so that they understand how we have and maintain the freedom of our great land.


My research confirmed that the Amalgam Mute exercise on the 10th May 1973 would provide a historic snapshot of those times with many of the participants available for interview. The interviewees included the fighter and target aircraft aircrew, the ground radar operators, intercept directors, squadron maintenance and armament personnel. Their stories are interspersed with a comprehensive explanation of the Cold War and technical description of the aircraft and radar systems. The exercise is described in detail with the benefit of inside knowledge, the author was involved in these missions, and draws the reader into the action.


The resulting book gives the reader a comprehensive overview, never available in one source before, of the NORAD operations in the skies above Canada as the public went about their daily lives totally unaware of the defensive shield above them. The fact that Canadian interceptors trained with, and had access to in the event of war, nuclear-capable rockets for many years is not widely known.


The NORAD Agreement is one of the longest agreements between Canada and the USA and has been in effect for 60 years and still maintains its motto to Deter, Detect, Defend.




This non-fiction historical book is based on a North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) exercise that took part in the early morning hours of the 10th May 1973. Through interviews with the participants, the reader gets an understanding of the various roles played by the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in the scheduled event. The military personnel involved range from the administrative staff at remote Canadian radar sites, to the air weapons controllers and the fighter interceptor aircrew.

NORAD is responsible for the safety of the North American continent from hostile forces and is on alert every minute of the day or night. Two allies, Canada and the USA, maintain this vigilance to protect their homelands. The NORAD motto is to Deter, Detect and Defend. Exercises are held frequently to ensure the capability of the system, such as the 1973 Amalgam Mute exercise featured in the book.

The reader will be progressively introduced to the components that make up this vast defence network; the reason that NORAD was conceived, the Cold War, and what exactly the organisation is. An introduction to radar and electronic warfare will be followed by a description of the Canadian radar defence network. The reader will be informed of the history of the CAF Voodoo fighter interceptor and its squadrons. Inside knowledge of the Canuck electronic warfare aircraft and its role of Soviet aggressor will be explained.

With these details, the reader will be able to fully understand what is happening as the exercise is described in the final chapter entitled "Sparks in the Night Sky". The reader will enter the world of the target aircraft's cockpit full of electronic jamming gear simulating a Soviet bomber, sit at the air weapons controller's radar screen directing the intercept, work the hangar line as the aircraft are prepared for battle and fly the night skies with the fighter interceptor crew. Will Mute One Zero Four get to bomb its target, Ottawa, the Canadian capital, or will Kilo November Zero Four shoot it down, albeit electronically, and prove that NORAD can Deter, Detect and Destroy?


Chapter 1 - Canada and the Cold War:

1959 - Work secretly began on the Emergency Government Headquarters outside Ottawa, Ontario. It was known officially as Canadian Forces Station Carp and unofficially as the 'Diefenbunker', named for Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker who authorised the construction. It was an underground four story 100,000 cubic foot building with five foot thick walls which could support 535 people for 30 days. In 1998 it was declared a Cold War National Historic Site and opened to the public.


Chapter 2 - North American Air Defence (NORAD):

The time had arrived to consider a combined American and Canadian air defence headquarters with operational control over all forces available. Thus, the seeds were sown of the future development of such an agreement, namely NORAD. Certain events hastened the process. In May 1947, the world became aware of the Tupolev Tu-4 long-range bomber, codenamed BULL. It had an uncanny resemblance to the American Boeing b-29, a copy perhaps. The USSR now had the ability to deliver bombs to North America, a frightening prospect. Two years after the Second World War had ended Canada now had to consider a growing threat again, this time from its polar neighbour the USSR.

Chapter 3 - RADAR and Electronic Warfare:


Radar can either be ground-based or airborne. Ground-based radar antenna can be very large heavy units for long-range capability but the airborne antennae, by necessity, have to fit in the available aircraft fuselage or missile body. The antennae, in either case, must be able to move mechanically or electronically in azimuth, left to right, and elevation, up and down. The development of radar has continued for the last hundred years and one of the major changes has been digitising the system to display symbology instead of raw data. 


Chapter 4 - Canadian Radar Network:


Subsequently, in 1963, the whole Canadian radar network was divided into regions and incorporated into the SAGE network. SAGE did away with manual plotting and controlling. The radar inputs came into the region headquarters from all the CADIN/Pinetree Line sites. The system was now computer-based and the whole of the region could now be observed and controlled from one location. This resulted in the radar sites reducing their Operations personnel by about a half to 200 personnel and less. The sites consisted of an operations and domestic section. The operations site, always located on the highest point in the vicinity, had a main building with a search and two height-finder radars. The antennas were enclosed in radomes to protect them against wind damage. There were two types of radomes, the rigid fibreglass geodesic dome and the blower constant pressure inflated rubber dome.


Chapter 5 - McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo:


The replacement Voodoos were delivered to the CAF as part of operation 'Peace Wings' that lasted from 2 July 1970 until 10 January 1972. Bristol Aerospace Ltd in Winnipeg undertook the modification process to engines, ejection seats and communication equipment. Then the aircraft were returned to the USA for installation of the Hughes MG-13 fire control system and MB-5 autopilot. The new batch of Voodoos did not have a refuelling probe and could be readily identified by a heat source dome, an Infra Red sensor, on the nose just forward of the canopy. This dome supplied information to the Falcon heat-seeking missiles. The CAF serial numbers ran from 101001 to 101067 and had no relationship to the USAF serial numbers. They were referred to as the 'double I P' birds, Improved Intercept Performance. 


Chapter 6 - Fighter Squadrons:


NORAD had a major influence on the shape and growth of Air Defence Command from the late 1950s on. It took the immediate post-war mobile auxiliary radar units and developed them into the SAGE network. The number of regular defence squadrons continually decreased from nine Avro Canuck squadrons in 1955 to three McDonnell Voodoo squadrons in 1964. The two Bomarc missile squadrons were phased out in 1972. At the time of our exercise mission, 10 May 1973, there were three active fighter interceptor squadrons: 409, 416, and 425. There was also a training squadron, 410, that provided all Voodoo crew training whose instructors were all combat ready. 


Chapter 7 - AVRO CF-100 Canuck:


Canada's first indigenous jet fighter was now complete. The Canadian airframe, the Canuck, and Canadian engine, the Orenda, had started down the path to eventual aircraft production for the RCAF. The American Mustang and the British De Havilland Vampire would relinquish their Canadian defence roles to the Canadian all weather CF-100 fighter interceptor. A glorious and exciting time for the fledgeling Canadian aviation industry as it demonstrated its ability to conceive, design and produce a military aircraft suitable for its own requirements.


Chapter 8 - Target Squadrons:


It was quite an amazing logistical, planning and scheduling effort to support this unique aircraft, the CF-100, flying all over North America in every season. At the time of our account, there were only sixteen CF-100s flying in the world, all with 414 squadron. Spare engines, aircraft parts, ground support equipment and maintenance personnel would be loaded on transport aircraft and taken to the deployment base for larger exercises. Sometimes the target aircraft would go unserviceable en route and a rescue aircraft would be dispatched with parts and a maintenance technician in the back seat to repair it. The CF-100 was so unique that the favourite question at the USA bases was 'Never seen one of these before, whadya all call one of these birds'?


Chapter 9 - Sparks in the Night Sky:


Gene disengaged the autopilot as he preferred to manually fly the intercept. 'Kilo November 04 right 310, target 1 'o' clock 30 miles (56 kilometres)'said the Intercept Director. Marty, the Radar Input Counter Measures Officer had delivered. The Intercept Director had a good radar picture on his scope and was able to continue vectoring Gene and Tiny towards the unknown target, Mute 104. 'Mute 104 Irradiate 49, you have a chick paired, 11 'o' clock 30 miles (56 kilometres)' the Target Director called. He would continue to call the fighter position during the intercept to assist Doug to find him visually in the night sky. Safety of both aircrew and aircraft was of the utmost importance. Tiny stared at his scope. He could see the radar noise, white spots, all over his scope but he knew that in there somewhere was the target, Mute 104. 'See anything yet Tiny?' Gene knew that events were going to happen rapidly. Two aircraft approaching each other at a closing speed of 920 knots (1704 km/h) would pass each other in just over two minutes. 

NORAD and the Soviet Nuclear Threat: About
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