Strategic Air Defense

by Colonel Stephen P. Moeller

Web Editor's Note: Colonel Moeller's article first appeared in the May - June 1995 issue of ADA (Air Defense Artillery) Magazine. This article does not necessarily reflect the position of the US Army Aviation and Missile Command, the Army Materiel Command, or the Department of the Army. Certain photographs and drawing contained in the original article have been omitted for the sake of space. Colonel Moeller is retired and living in the South.


"Vigilant and Invincible" was the motto of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command, or ARADCOM. From the first deployment of World War II-vintage antiaircraft guns in 1950 to the inactivation of the last NIKE HERCULES missile system in 1974, ARADCOM provided a deterrent to the Soviet strategic bomber threat for the U.S. homeland. During this period, the Army built, operated, improved and then dismantled a vast network of defenses. These defenses protected the nation's capital, key industrial areas, ports, atomic weapon production facilities and Strategic Air Command (SAC) bases from air attack.

World War II generated a tremendous leap in military technology, especially in strategic bombers, air-breathing missiles like the German V-I, ballistic missiles like the German V-2, jet-powered airplanes and atomic bombs. These advances in technology, combined with the Soviet Union's threat of world domination in the post-war years, caused the United States to take action to prevent yet another war this century. And if deterrence failed, the objective was to limit the damage to its citizenry and war-making capability.

During the final months of World War II, several major defense contractors studied the likelihood that evolving technologies could produce guided missiles to intercept bombers and surface-to-surface missiles. One of these projects, called NIKE after the Greek goddess of victory, would grow to a full deployment of more than 240 missile sites in the United States. Operating these sites were nearly 45,000 active duty and National Guard soldiers. ARADCOM controlled these missiles and antiaircraft guns and a vast network of command centers to communicate with them.

This research will view ARADCOM in the light of various threats, and also of national and military events of the times. Threat-wise, the Soviet Union dominated the scene; its bombers and ballistic missiles held center stage in decisions made to deploy defensive systems. This work highlights the increasing threat of Soviet military power and makes mention of another belligerent communist state, China. The writing approach divides this work into decades, starting with the pre-deployment period of the 1940s. Chapters are devoted to each decade up to the 1970s. The final chapter draws some conclusions from the topics discussed previously.

Nationally, the focus will be on key decisions made in Washington. Administrations from Truman through Ford made tough calls in allocating resources within the nation and the military. Budgets, taxes and competing domestic needs caused decisions on deploying systems to be politically challenging, to say the least.

Within the military, the services interacted to accomplish the air defense mission. Actions by the Department of Defense (DoD), the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), and the other services, especially the Air Force, will be discussed. This interaction included a competition for resources that developed into inter-service rivalry. Yet the rivals cooperated in many ventures to ensure national defense.

ARADCOM, whose motto was "Vigilant and Invincible", is the primary focus of this work. Given all the external factors of the threat, the nation and the other elements of the military, ARADCOM was the last line of defense against attacking enemy aircraft. The following chapters describe how ARADCOM went about that endeavor over a period of 24 years. Also included are descriptions of some of the various technologies and equipments used by the command.

When deterrence became a part of the United States' national strategy, ARADCOM was key and essential to that effort. Was it successful? Measured by the number of attacks on the United States by the Soviets in the 24 years of ARADCOM's existence, it was 100 percent so.

Chapter One - Pre-deployment - The 1940s

Chapter Two - Activation and Deployment - The 1950s

Chapter Three - Peak Deployment-The 1960s

Chapter Four - Phasing Out