Alaska Manual System Radar Sites
The need for an air defense system in Alaska became clear in the late 1940s and early 1950s as the Soviet Union developed atomic weapons and long-range aircraft to deliver them to U.S. and Canadian targets. The proximity of Alaska to the Soviet Union made it very vulnerable to air and land attack. Construction of aircraft control and warning radar sites commenced about 1950 and the first sites were operational in 1951.
The build-out of radar sites continued throughout the 1950s under very adverse conditions. Just building the sites was a herculean task because of the remote locations and adverse weather conditions. Once built, the sites had to be manned and supplied. At many of the sites, the only means of supply was from the air on short dangerous dirt airstrips. Personnel were assigned to the sites on a one-year remote tour which meant there was a constant turnover of personnel and little continuity. Fire was a constant danger and several sites experienced multiple fires that destroyed mess halls, quarters, and other facilities.
Initially, communication between the remote sites and with higher headquarters was via military radio equipment. This quickly proved inadequate and at some sites, the radio exchanges were so garbled that they could not be relied on. Construction of the Alaska White Alice troposcatter communications network in the late 1950s solved most of the communications problems. The White Alice system remained in operation until the late 1970s when it was replaced by direct satellite links.
While the manual radar sites in the lower 48 states were being automated into the SAGE System in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Alaska was not to be a part of the SAGE System. The Alaska radar sites remained in manual mode until 1965 when a kludged together system known as the FYQ-9, semi-automated the radar track following functions. The FYQ-9 still required an operator to initiate radar tracks at the radar site.
The further automation of the manual system required several technology events and resulted in the deactivation of all the AC&W Squadrons, the replacement of all the radar sets at all the remaining radar sites, and contractor maintenance of all the remaining radar sites. The technology events that precipitated these major changes included Common Digitizers and satellite terminals at the radar sites and the activation of the FYQ-93 at the new Elmendorf JSS ROCC in 1983.