The Purpose and Contribution of the DEW Line to NORAD

This massive infrastructure project, initiated in the 1950s, involved the establishment of a network of radar stations stretching across the Arctic region, from Alaska to Greenland. By providing an advanced early warning system, the DEW Line played a pivotal role in safeguarding the continent by alerting authorities about possible incoming Soviet attacks. Importantly, the creation of the DEW Line also served as a catalyst for collaboration between Canada and the United States, paving the way for the establishment of NORAD in 1958. This joint military command further strengthened the defense capabilities of both nations and solidified their commitment to protecting North America's airspace.

What Was the Purpose of the DEW Line?

The primary purpose of the DEW Line was to serve as an early warning system against potential aerial attacks from enemy bombers. During the height of the Cold War, there was a growing concern among American officials about the possibility of Soviet bombers flying over the North Pole to reach North American cities. This concern led to the development of the DEW Line as an integral part of North Americas defense strategy.

The DEW line consisted of a network of radar stations strategically positioned across the Arctic region. These radar stations were designed to detect and track any incoming aircraft entering North American airspace from the polar regions.

The construction of the DEW Line was a massive undertaking that required cooperation between the United States and it’s northern neighbor, Canada. The remote and harsh Arctic environment posed numerous challenges during the installation and maintenance of the radar sites. However, the strategic importance of the DEW Line outweighed the logistical difficulties, prompting both countries to commit significant resources and manpower to ensure it’s successful implementation.

Another vital aspect of the DEW Line was it’s integration with existing radar networks, such as the Pine Tree Line in Canada and BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) in Alaska. By combining these systems, the radar coverage expanded, creating a robust early warning system that could track any potential threat approaching from either over the Arctic or as ballistic missiles launched from the other side of the globe.

During the Cold War, the effectiveness of the DEW Line and similar early-warning installations in deterring Soviet aggression can’t be underestimated. The Soviet Union understood the significant advantage that the United States possessed with it’s advanced detection systems. Knowing that any attempt to launch an air strike would be promptly identified, the Soviets were aware that their incoming bombers or ICBMs could be targeted and neutralized by the U.S. Air Force’s fighter interceptors.

Was the DEW Line Effective?

The effectiveness of the DEW Line and other early-warning installations during the Cold War remains a subject of debate among experts. One can argue that these installations were indeed effective deterrents against Soviet aggression. The early-warning capabilities provided by the DEW Line allowed the United States to detect any potential air strike well in advance, giving them ample time to prepare a response.

By deploying these early-warning systems, the Soviets knew that their attempts to launch an air strike would be met with swift and decisive action from the U.S. Air Force. The presence of fighter interceptors ready to engage and destroy incoming bombers or ICBMs significantly reduced the effectiveness of potential Soviet attacks. The knowledge that their actions wouldn’t go undetected acted as a deterrent, discouraging the Soviet Union from taking aggressive actions.

The DEW Line, along with other early-warning installations, also served the purpose of providing valuable intelligence. By monitoring Soviet military activities and detecting any potential threats, the United States was able to gather critical information about Soviet capabilities and intentions. This intelligence allowed them to better understand their adversary and make informed decisions regarding their own defense strategies.

However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of the DEW Line was not without it’s limitations. For instance, the DEW Line primarily focused on detecting aircraft and missiles approaching from the north, leaving potential threats from other directions unaccounted for. Additionally, the introduction of newer and more advanced Soviet technologies could have potentially rendered the DEW Line less effective over time.

The Role of the DEW Line in Detecting and Monitoring Soviet Submarine Activities in the Arctic

The DEW Line played a crucial role in monitoring Soviet submarine activities in the Arctic. It was a network of radar stations located along the northern coast of North America. These stations would detect any movement in the airspace and waters around the region. By constantly monitoring the area, it helped identify and track Soviet submarines trying to enter North American waters undetected. This early warning system was vital for national security, as it allowed for swift response and countermeasures if any threat was identified.


This ambitious project not only strengthened Canada's and the United States' defense capabilities but also fostered closer collaboration and alliance between the two nations. This joint command further solidified the relationship between Canada and the United States, helping them to effectively monitor and respond to potential threats in the North American airspace. In essence, the purpose of the DEW Line not only served it’s intended function of early warning but also brought nations closer together, emphasizing the importance of cooperation and unity in the face of common security challenges.