Western Air Defense Sector
"Guarding America's Skies"
The Western Air Defense Sector, with headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is one of two sectors responsible to the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region (CONR) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for peacetime air sovereignty, strategic air defense, and airborne counterdrug operations in the continental United States. WADS is a Washington Air National Guard unit which operationally reports directly to First Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
WADS is made up of personnel from the Washington Air National Guard, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, Title 5 Civilians and the Royal Canadian Air Force.
This bi-national organization exercises operational control of ANG fighter aircraft, primarily F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons, on continuous alert and uses radar data and the radio capabilities of Joint Surveillance System sites located throughout the western United States. These sites, jointly funded and used by the Department of Defense and the Federal Aviation Administration, 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 southwestern border.
Radar data from all of 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.
WADS Mission Statement:
Defend the United States and Canada by responding to all threats through battle management /command and control of allocated forces, and provide defense support to federal and state civil authorities in times of crisis.
To provide world-class battle management/command and control in defense of the homeland through seamless integration of legacy and emerging capabilities.
History of the Western Air Defense Sector:
WADS’ historic predecessor was the 25th Air Division, which activated at Silver Lake (Everett), Wash., in 1948 and moved to McChord Field in 1951. In 1957, the division became part of the North American Aerospace Defense command, a joint U.S.- Canada command. Three years later, the unit relocated to its present location as it converted to the Semiautomatic Ground Environment System (SAGE).
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 the United States Air Force phased out is radar sites in favor of the Joint Surveillance System (JSS) of radars.
The Air Force established the Northwest Air Defense Sector in June 1987 as the 25th Air Division’s subordinate at McChord AFB for the command and control of the northwestern United States. With the inactivation of the 25th AD in 1990, First Air Force at Tyndall AFB, Fla., 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 AFB, Calif., 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 was 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 western skies.
At the end of 2005, the outdated Q-93 radar system was replaced with modernized computer systems (Battle Control System-Fixed), which was a major shift in how CONUS is defended since the Q-93 system had been in use since 1983. Also, in 2005, Western Air Defense Sector assumed responsibility of more airspace shifting from down the center of the U.S. to east of Mississippi totaling roughly 73 percent of the U.S. airspace. There have been a few system updates since 2005 but only upgrades to the firmware and program versions, not the hardware itself like what happened in 2005.
Since 1948, strategic air defense command and control has evolved from a manual, “grease pencil and plotting board” operation to the high-tech environment of today. The fighter aircraft assigned as interceptors to the sector have included the P-51, P-61, F-82, F-86, F-94, T-33, F-89, F-102, F-101/CF-101, F-106, F-4, and currently the F-15 and F-16.