Western Air Defense Sector History

Our History

Western Air Defense Sector (WADS) is made up of personnel from the Washington Air National Guard, U.S. Army, U.S Navy, Title 5 Civilians, civilian contractors and Canadian Forces Air Command. This bi-national organization exercises operational control of ANG fighter aircraft on continuous alert at several locations and uses radar data and the radio capabilities of Joint Surveillance System sites located throughout our area of responsibility (73%) of the U.S. These sites, jointly funded and used by the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), are operated and maintained by FAA personnel. The Sector also uses radar data from tethered aerostats and gap filler radars to improve its low level coverage of the nation's southwestern border. Radar data from all these sources is electronically fed into computers at the Sector Operations Control Center where personnel correlate and identify all airborne targets and, if necessary, scramble alert fighters to identify those whose origin is unknown. As part of NORAD, the Sector is the lead Department of Defense (DoD) agency for interdiction of drug smuggling aircraft. In wartime, the Sector gains additional fighter, tanker and E-3 aircraft to detect, intercept and if required, destroy hostile aircraft and/or cruise missiles.

Originally designated the 25th Air Defense Division (25 AD), the Sector was established at Silver Lake (Everett), Washington in 1948 and moved its headquarters to McChord in 1951. In 1957 the unit became part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint U.S.-Canada command. Three years later, the unit relocated to its present location as it converted to the Semiautomatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system. After 23 years of successful operations, SAGE gave way in 1983 to an upgraded system using faster, more powerful computers and improved communications and control equipment. It was at this time that United States Air Force personnel manning radar sites were phased out as the JSS concept was implemented.

The Northwest Air Defense Sector was established in June 1987 as a subordinate unit of the 25th Air Division, McChord Air Force Base. In 1990, the 25 AD was deactivated, and First Air Force became the Sector's parent unit. In January 1995, the Northwest Air Defense Sector consolidated with the Southwest Air Defense Sector, its counterpart at March Air Force Base, California, to become the Western Air Defense Sector. The Western Air Defense Sector assumed responsibility for the air sovereignty of the western United States from Texas around the west coast and across to North Dakota. Its area of responsibility is approximately 1.9 million square miles, about 63% of the continental United States. In October 1997 the Western Air Defense Sector completed a seamless transition from the active duty Air Force to the Air National Guard. Citizen-soldiers of the Washington Air National Guard are currently guarding America’s skies.

We have enhanced our radar picture of the interior of the United State since Sept. 11, 2001 in part by positioning mobile radars in the interior and coastal areas of the U.S. as well as through technical enhancements linking us to interior FAA radars. In November 2006, the Western Air Defense Sector assumed responsibility of 73% of the United States from the Mississippi River to include Mississippi west to the Pacific Ocean from Canada down to Mexico. Its area of responsibility is now approximately 2.7 million square miles.

Since 1948, strategic air defense command and control has evolved from a manual, ?grease pencil operation to the high-tech environment of today. The fighter aircraft assigned as interceptors to the sector have included the P-40, P-47, P-51, P-61, F-82, F-86, F-94, T-33, CF-101, F-106, F-4, and currently the F-15 and F-16.