Friday, 18 March 2016

NORAD And The UFO Smokescreen

Part 6


Previously, in Part 5 of this ambitious series, “NORAD and the UFO Smokescreen”, I discussed North American Aerospace Defence Command’s (NORAD) role in the identification, tracking and categorisation of aerospace activities across North America, and their sophisticated maintenance of “air sovereignty” through well-developed national defence doctrine. Within that complex framework, I demonstrated that UFO’s can be “allowed for”, and, have indeed plagued NORAD in the past. Their own records prove that. Of course, by “UFO” I mean unidentifiable objects or other unusual, solid phenomena; completely distinct from just strayed aircraft or other manmade activities. For readers who are new to this series, my entire Parts 1 through to Part 5 can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

NORADs Space Surveillance Mission         

NORAD’s surveillance mission extends into space. In this, Part 6, and an upcoming Part 7, I am investigating their monitoring of space objects – manmade, natural, or possibly otherwise; with the “otherwise” category being UFO’s.

It may be surprising to some, but currently NORAD itself does not directly monitor space. Its vast headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, actually rely on incoming streams of data from dozens of various sensor systems that make up the US’s Space Surveillance Network (SSN). The SSN is a “system of systems” rather than a dedicated agency or command. Over thirty ground-based sensors (ultra-long range radar systems, electro-optical telescopes, and optical telescopes) spread around the world constantly detect and track tens of thousands of orbiting bodies above Earths atmosphere. Some of these sites also perform complex categorisation and identification of space objects, including on-the-spot missile warning. Before any of this time-critical space monitoring data reaches NORAD, it is primarily handled by other commands, as we shall see. A United States Air Force’s (USAF) educational publication “Air University Space Primer – 2003” states:

“To accomplish the aerospace warning mission, NORAD is responsible for providing Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment (ITW/AA) of an aerospace attack on North America to the governments of Canada and the US. This is accomplished by using information made available by the ITW/AA system. Portions of that system are under the operational control of NORAD, while other portions are operated by commands supporting NORAD.”

Most of the thirty sensor sites that make up the SSN are currently subordinate to the USAF’s massive Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), and, in turn, are controlled by the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC-Space), which is part of the United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM, or just STRATCOM). Furthermore, it is important to note that STRATCOM has only been commanding the SSN since 2002. Before then, it was the US Space Command (USSPACECOM, or just SPACECOM) that controlled the SSN and – like STRATCOM today – provided the wider US military with a full suite of space object orbital data, foreign missile launch detection capability, space object decay prediction, and other final informational products. SPACECOM was absorbed into STRATCOM in 2002 in one of the biggest organisational alterations the US Department of Defence (DOD) undertaken in recent times. Both the old SPACECOM and current STRATCOM have been, and still are, comprised of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), the Naval Space Command (NAVSPACOM) and the Army Space Command (ARMSPACECOM). It is from this complex organisational structure that NORAD receives the data it needs to fulfill its mission.

  The Early Years          

In 1960, NORAD took control of the “Space Detection and Tracking System” (SPADATS). SPADAT’s was a bold effort to integrate the USAF’s “Space Track” (SPACETRACK) program and the US Navy’s “Naval Space Surveillance System” (SPASUR). SPADATS was originally run by the 1st Aerospace Surveillance and Control Squadron – affectionately known as “1st Aero”. Importantly, the squadron was functionally answerable to NORAD but administratively under the control of the USAF’s Air Defence Command’s (ADC) 9th Aerospace Defence Division (9ADD or “9th Aero Division”). The name of the squadron was changed to 1st Aerospace Control Squadron on 1 July 1962. The unit was inactivated on 21 April 1976, after being first based NORAD’s operational headquarters at Ent Air Force, then the Cheyenne Mountain Complex (CMC), both in Colorado, for nearly two decades. The US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board’s “Report on Space Surveillance, Asteroids and Comets, and Space Debris, (SAB-TR-96-04) Volume I: Space Surveillance”, published 1st June, 1997, stated that the 1st Aero’s mission, in the 1960’s, was to:

“...detect, track, identify, and catalog every man-made object in space.”

Interestingly, the 1st Aero Squadron was paid a visit by none other than Edward U. Condon, the Director of the USAF’s University of Colorado UFO Study, on Jan 13, 1967, during his tour of NORAD facilities at Cheyenne Mountain and Ent Air Force Base. Condon, and his contract monitor, J. Thomas Ratchford, were briefed by 1st Lt. Henry B. Eckert Jr. and Capt. Dick. A. Cable. It is unknown to what extent the UFO matter was properly discussed. An article appeared in the 9th Aero Defence Division’s internal “Q Point” magazine, No. 23, March 1967 about Condon and Ratchford’s visit to the NORAD facilities. One segment of the article states:

“Along with other members of his UFO study team and representatives from the USAF Office of Aerospace research, Dr. Condon was given a briefing at Ent and an orientation tour of the Cheyenne Mountain complex.”

It goes on to state that the UFO study team later sent a letter of appreciation to Maj. Gen. Oris B. Johnston, Commander of 9th Aerospace Defence Division, for arranging the visit and information gained. An excerpt of the letter is included in the article:

      “The excellent briefing at Ent and the orientation visit to Cheyenne Mountain will be invaluable to the Condon Committee in its admittedly difficult study of such an elusive subject as UFO’s. Furthermore, the fine spirit of cooperation evidenced by all of your staff was helpful in demonstrating to the University of Colorado that operational commands such as yours can play an important role in furnishing the kind of information necessary for their study”

Below is a rare picture taken of Dr. Condon at the 1st Aerospace Control Squadron, Jan, 1967, from the “9th Aero’s “Q Point” article.

The US House Committee on Science & Astronautics held the famous “Symposium On Unidentified Flying Objects” on July 29th, 1968, several months before the “Condon Report” came out. The discussions during the symposium were much more illuminating about the military tracking of space objects as possible UFO’s than Condon’s work. In fact, the Condon Report barely mentioned the tracking of unidentified objects in space at all, even in its lengthy discussions of using instrumentation to track UFO’s generally. This might be explained by Condon’s negative attitude and the Colorado Project’s heavily flawed work. Or perhaps the NORAD briefing raised too many awkward questions that couldn’t be answered and they thought better to just avoid any mention of it. During the above mentioned July 29th Symposium on UFO’s, Dr. Robert M. L. Baker introduced the subject of space tracking instrumentation, missile detection, and “anomalous phenomena”. It was then he made this astonishing statement:

“There is only one surveillance system, known to me, that exhibits sufficient and continuous coverage to have even a slight opportunity of betraying the presence of anomalistic phenomena operating above the Earth’s atmosphere. The system is partially classified and, hence, I cannot go into great detail at an unclassified meeting. I can, however, state that yesterday I travelled to Colorado Springs and confirmed that since this particular sensor system has been in operation, there have been a number of anomalistic alarms. Alarms that, as of this date, have not been explained on the basis of natural phenomena interference, equipment malfunction or inadequacy, or manmade space objects.”

Dr. Baker’s mention of the town “Colorado Springs” is a without doubt a reference to NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain facility. Colorado Springs and Cheyenne Mountain are only a few miles apart.

NORAD’s ability, even in the early 1960’s, to track and identify manmade objects was even influencing major Department of Defence (DOD) projects. On 23 May 1960 Deputy Secretary of Defence James Douglas said, “We have embarked on studies to inspect satellites at close range in the interest of our own satellite operations.”. In other words, US decision-makers had agreed that DoD satellites, in future, could be designed to study foreign spacecraft during pre-programmed flybys. Only six months later, this project was given a shot in the arm after a puzzling event occurred at NORAD’s SPADAT Operations Center. Captain Harold D. Getzelman, USAF, in his 1986 thesis “Design Of An Orbital Inspection Satellite”, writes:

“This research program for a satellite inspector became known as SAINT. The program got new emphasis in November 1960 when an unidentified space object was detected by the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). The existing ground based sensors were unable to identify the object, and a program was begun to build better ground-based and space based sensors for space object identification. As the United States attempted to improve its ground surveillance, it also started using reconnaissance satellites”

Obtaining archived SPADATS records, which were created by either NORAD or the space component commands like NAVSPACOM, is very difficult. But files, of the millions of pages that must exist, have been released. In briefing paper titled “Information on 1979 Space Activities”, Lt. Col. T. J. O’Rourke, Technical Data and Systems Division, NORAD Combat Operations Center (NCOC) tabled 6 years of “Space Object Data” for NORAD Headquarters. The table, comprising of data dating 1974 through 1979, is scant on detail and merely lists “Objects Catalogued”, “Launches” (detected), etc. This year, we are attempting to access, through the NORAD History Office, somewhat more comprehensive 1970’s records that relate to the above mentioned data. I have imaged the table below.

In a USAF sponsored paper titled “Military Uses of Space 1946-1991”, Chapter 2 contains a three page table of information about SPADATs titled “The NORAD Space Detection And Tracking System (SPADATS) 1979”. Originally classified SECRET, three columns are titled “Site”, “Unit” and “Equipment”. Below is the first page of the three page table.

Back To The Future     

By the 1970’s, NORAD and the entire SSN were capable of not only detection and tracking, but also the rapid assessment of objects with threatening trajectories, plus the creation of computerised catalogues of all discovered orbiting bodies. Also, the light speed data dissemination to different commands and agencies from SSN sites was becoming a reality. One very important issue, which I will discuss in my next blogpost, is that the NORAD and SSN effort mainly focuses on objects that are either orbiting the Earth, or, are on trajectories towards North America, or, are following the expected parameters of foreign missiles that are leaving Earth’s atmosphere and expected to return. On the other hand, as we are well aware, UFO’s – whatever they are supposed to be – are usually reported as erratic and unpredictable, materialising from nothing, or changing shape mid-flight. Thus, should UFO’s – “our” type of UFO’s – be in space, near Earth, and visible using our systems, their signatures, at least up until the 1970’s, were may have been ignored or discarded as unimportant. The reality of this was summed up by Atmospheric Physicist James E. McDonald, probably the greatest individual contributor to scientifically sound UFO research, when he stated:

 “In almost every monitoring system you set up, whether for defence or scientific purposes, if you don’t want to be snowed with data, you intentionally build selectivity in…. You do not see what you are not looking for. Consequently…the fact that they don’t repeatedly turn up what appear to be similar to UFOs, whatever we define that to be, is not quite as conclusive as it might seem.”

Despite the breath-taking capabilities of the SSN and NORAD in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and the significant publicly available information around these capabilities, there is not a lot of evidence that NORAD was actively or deliberately pursuing UFO’s in space, unlike their much more terrestrial air defence role. Having said that, I am quite sure that had NORAD, or anyone else for that matter, watched a really anomalous, unexplainable event play out on the fringes of space – it would have been be immediately considered very highly classified, and there is nothing whatsoever to assume we would be openly able to study it now. In my next post, I will be discussing NORAD’s space surveillance capabilities into the 1980’s and beyond. I will be presenting entirely new information that has never been seen by the UFO community. Following on from then, I will refocus on NORAD’s role in air defence and airspace management – the very place we know UFO’s are being seen and studied.


  1. This is my favorite write-up in your series todate, Paul. Very good.