Curator’s Comment

The following information is from a document that appears to have been prepared in the mid to late 1980’s and provides a high level overview of DEWLine operations without going into much detail. It was most probably written as an information booklet for first-time visitors to the Line.

For additional insights, be sure to download Paul Kelley’s excellent write-up titled “The DEWLine – A Brief Introduction.”

Finally, the operational job of being the DEWLine’s “Eyes in the Sky” fell to the Radicians and Console Operators. Here is a look at their world. (The Life of a DEWLine Radician).

The Document

The primary mission of the DEW Line is to provide early warning data to allow NORAD to give tactical warning and attack assessment to the national command authorities of the United States and Canada. A secondary, but extremely important, mission is the management, operation, and maintenance of a modern wide-band communication system. This system interconnects military subscribers at Iceland, Sondrestrom, and the DEW Line with similar subscribers in Canada, in the Continental United States, and in Europe.

In 1952, it was evident that the airborne delivery capabilities of potential enemies had put the heartland of the United States and Canada in critical jeopardy. In those days, a jet aircraft could easily place our cities within the destructive perimeter of its “A” bomb cargo before giving adequate warning of its deadly purpose .

The military community asked the question, “How best can we defend our country against a mass air attack?”, and thus sought the assistance of the scientific community. As a result a hand-picked research team, security-code named the “Summer Study Group”, consisting of the cream of the crop of American scientists, was assembled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratories. Their recommendation for the development, installation, and maintenance of the Distant Early Warning radar and communications system was accepted by the U.S. Air Force.

The immediate problem facing our scientists was to develop, from scratch, radar and radio equipment and associated electronic systems which would function satisfactorily in an environment of -60*F, vicious summer electrical storms; constantly fluctuating currents of the North Magnetic pole, and the strange phenomenon of the Northern Lights. They simply invented as they went, hand-made  the parts arid components required, and assembled the necessary equipment. Laboratory tests were exhaustive and encouraging; but not conclusive. The need for field tests under actual Arctic conditions was mandatory.

The Air Force airlifted the necessary materials, equipment, and machinery 240 miles north of the Arctic Circle to Barter Island, Alaska, and set up the first experimental DEW Line outpost for the Summer Study Group. A tight security lid was clamped on the activities at Barter Island. Even the families of those doing the work were unaware of the kind of activity being carried out, and its location.

Following tests at Barter Island and the accomplishment of the indicated changes in design and format of equipment, the inventors and planners were satisfied that they had created a feasible and practical solution for all of the initial DEW Line technical equipment problems.

CONSTRUCTION: OF THE DEW LINE. The construction of the DEW Line was in three segments, starting in Alaska then proceeding across Canada and finally completing the Greenland sector. Two types of stations were constructed .

The main stations consisted of two 25-module trains bridged together in the form of an “H”. They were equipped with rotating radar and support facilities, such as individual warehouse like buildings for garages, shops, and bulk storage, which would provide full service and logistics support for that sector. The auxiliary stations, consisted of single 25-module train equipped with rotating radar and limited self support facilities such as a garage, warehouse, bulk POL storage tanks,  etc.

An interesting construction feature at main and auxiliary stations was the inclusion of a fire-barrier module about every eight modules along the train. The fire barrier was metal clad on the roof and side, with the bottom exposed to the· weather, but included an enclosed corridor connecting the standard module on either side. If the seriousness or a fire warranted it, the barrier module could be pushed out of the train by bulldozer, isolating the other modules from the fire.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE CANADIAN SEGMENT. It is beyond the scope of this brochure to go into the details of how the 2000-mile Canadian Segment was constructed. But the problems faced ·and solved in all departments made the building of the Alaskan segment seem easy by comparison.

ln the first place, it was found that there were no dependable, maps of sufficient detail and accuracy for scientific siting of the station locations. Without the wholehearted enthusiasm and support of the Royal Canadian Air Force and its pilots, this  obstacle could easily have delayed construction of the Line for years. The RCAF pilots soon learned to consider any landing they walked away from as a good one. Their pay was well earned.

Beginning almost on the Alaskan-Canada border, the further east you travel, the more forbidding the country. It is mountainous, treacherous country, snow and ice covered, and barren. In the placement of stations, the actual terrain was a secondary consideration. They had to be where they had to be, even if it meant building the stations on mountain sides, ledges, or peaks.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE GREENLAND SEGMENT. In 1959, the DEW Line was extended into Greenland when four new sites were constructed, one on the west coast, overlooking the Davis Straits; one on the rocky coast, looking towards Iceland; and the two remaining sites on the Greenland Ice Cap. The Ice Cap sites are of a truly unique design. They resemble offshore drilling rigs, but they are elevated on eight steel columns buried about 100 feet into ice which is several thousand feet deep, the bedrock being at sea level. When viewed from the air, these remote radar stations appear from the distance as a dark speck against the vast white emptiness of the ice cap glacier. Up close they remind one of a giant “Lunar Lander” of project APOLLO.

ORIGINAL DEW LINE. The original DEW Line was completed in 1957 and amounted to an electronic fence running eastward from Cape Lizburne, Alaska to Cape Dyer, Canada. It consisted of 6 main stations, 27 auxiliary sites and 28 intermediate sites for a total of 61. Intermediate sites have since been deactivated. To maintain security, brevity code names were derived from main station geographical locations. DYE derived from Cape Dyer; FOX, from Foxe Basin; CAM; from Cambridge Bay; PIN, from Cape Parry; BAR, from Barter Island; and POW, from Point Barrow. Stations at the westernmost end were designated LIZ, derived from Cape Lizburne.

Sector administrative, operational and logistical headquarters were located at “main” stations, designated by an “M” (DYE-M, FOX-M, CAM-M, etc.). Auxiliary sites were designated by the – code name of the next westerly main stations and a number. Over the years, the brevity code names have not changed. The names start at each main site, with the auxiliary site numbers increasing to the east. For example, we have FOX-M at Hall Beach, FOX-1 (now deactivated), FOX-2, -3, -4,and -5 to the east. Immediately west of Fox-M is CAM-5. Newcomers to the Line are normally and justifiably confused by the brevity codes, but there is an order to them which aids in east-west orientation.

TODAY’S DEW SYSTEM. The DEW Line has never been a static system that one can point to as a finished product. Since 1963, two aux sites (POW-3 and FOX-1) have been deactivated because their coverage was not required. The communications back-haul, via extensive ionospheric scatter and microwave radio systems in Canada and Alaska, has been replaced by satellite communications sites previously needed to connect the DEW Line with NORAD.

The Greenland extension of the DEW Line, the four sites known as DEW-East (DYE-1, 2, 3, 4) was completed in 1961. These sites receive support from Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland. They join the rest of the DEW Line to play a major role in todays military long-haul communications network, connecting via DYE-5 in Iceland to the North Atlantic Radio System (NARS) and providing a critical strategic defense to the U.K.

The logistics support oft the DEW Line has greatly changed over the·years. Originally there were enormous maintenance and supply activities and facilities at the main station with fully staffed civil engineering and com-electronic activities. BAR-M and FOX-M also had depot level maintenance facilities, with traveling teams to handle heavy repair: Today, contractor logistics support activities are centralized at Winnipeg, CN, and Fairbanks, AK supported by a fully integrated computer system. Technical support and training activities are also centralized, primarily at Colorado Springs and at the Winnipeg, Canada facility. The advent of jet aircraft and prop jet transports with great range and payload has had great impact on the efficiency or logistics support, arguably being the factor making centralization possible.

All these improvements notwithstanding, today’s DEW Line is very much out of date. The radar system presently used was developed in the 1950’s and as such is a “tube” system which is experiencing reliability and maintainability problems. Good tubes are hard to find anymore. The operational performance is seriously affected, and support is becoming, so expensive, regardless of management improvements, that economic feasibility is only made possible by the absolute operational need for the system. “But we live in a ballistic missile age” you might say. “Isn’t the DEW Line which was intended to detect manned bombers, obsolete?”

As we have said, the DEW Line’s original mission has been vastly enlarged and its radar and communications equipment enormously upgraded. While the Line still guards against bomber attack, its far-flung communications network also forms a vital link in the overall defense of the free world including programs guarding against intercontinental ballistic missiles such as BMEWS, the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.

Now the threat is rapidly changing. Long range bombers loaded with air-launched cruise missiles are a part of the increasing enemy order of battle. The advent of these weapons, and the critical requirement for reliable early attack warning and assessment for our national command authorities, makes clear the requirement for modernization of the DEW Line. The state-of-the-art of radar and microcircuit technology have advanced to the point where modern economical and highly reliable radars can be fielded as replacement µnits. We are now in the process of doing just that.

TOMORROW’S DEW SYSTEM. One of the highest priority strategic defense systems now being developed is the so-called North Warning System (NWS) which is simply a thorough modernization of the DEW Line. The mission of tactical warning and attack assessment has not changed. The radar equipment will. The new radar systems will provide greatly improved low altitude coverage and can be operated and maintained at substantially reduced cost.

The NWS will be deployed in the Alaskan and Canadian north slopes and down the Labrador coast. The improved and optimally placed radars will provide target data within their surveillance envelope to the NORAD Regional Operations Control Centers and will provide the radar surveillance and command and control capability along the Arctic Circle.

The NWS will consist of approximately 40 unattended Short Range Radars (SRRs) and 14 minimally manned Long Range Radars (LRRs). Current DEW Line radars will be phased out in a sequence that minimizes degradation to the early warning capability, overall eliminates costs, and delays in implementing early warning improvements. Everyone connected with the DEW Line can be expected to be very much involved in this important project over the next several years.

FACILITIES AND SUPPORT EQUIPMENT. In providing the overall operation and maintenance for the DEW Line, the OM contractor (FSI) must provide facilities and equipment and operate arid maintain them as required for both primary mission activities and for support. Primary mission facilities are those for the radar and for the short and long-haul communications systems. Support facilities include airstrips, hangars, air navigational aids, roads, garages, warehouses, administrative communications systems and housing and food services for the people. Required utilities include electric power, ventilation, plumbing, sanitation, fuel systems and fire detection alarm systems.

MAINTENANCE. Facilities and equipment on the Line receive four basic types of maintenance: (1) scheduled preventive maintenance; (2) non-scheduled corrective maintenance; (3) depot level maintenance for some equipment and (4) scheduled refurbishing.

It must be understood that the “buildings and outside plant” maintenance personnel also have extensive other tasks.   For example, considerable effort must be expended in winter to keep airstrips, roads and areas around buildings serviceable and free of blocking snow. They haul water, load and unload aircraft, transport people and supplies from airstrips to site, and many other time-consuming chores.

THE MODULE TRAINS. Module trains are constructed of prefabricated plywood insulated panels and sheathed with aluminum siding. They contain bedrooms for personnel; administrative offices; radar and communications equipment; power, heating and ventilating equipment; kitchen and dining room areas; recreation areas; and certain small shops.

A typical main station contains two or more module “trains” in many instances connected by an overhead bridge. A typical auxiliary station contains one train made of 25 module or units.

GARAGES. Each site is provided one garage which contains space for storing tools, equipment and bench stocks of vehicle spare parts for repairing vehicles and equipment; one generator which is a disaster generator that can used on an emergency basis with other station generators; and a: heating plant and disaster radio. The garages at the main sites contained several bays and can accommodate 5-7 vehicles or pieces of heavy equipment. The garages at the auxiliary sites contain 5 bays.

DORMITORIES. The number of detached dormitories varies from site to site. Dormitories are provided at certain main and auxiliary sites to house station and transient personnel. A typical dormitory has bedrooms, a utility room which contains the hot air heating plant, potable water storage tank, waste tank, laundry, and sanitary facilities.

WAREHOUSES. The size and number of warehouses provided for each site also varies. The warehouses are used for storing foodstuffs, electronic and spare parts required for station support, and contain a heating plant and supply offices.

The typical main station has been provided with two or more 40′ X 100′ warehouses, and the typical auxiliary with one 40′ X 100′ warehouse.

HANGARS. Hangars have been provided at all main stations and certain auxiliary sites. These structures are used to house transient aircraft, to provide space to unload cargo aircraft in inclement weather, to provide work space for carrier personnel to repair and service aircraft, and, in the case of DYE-Main, to house electric power plants which supply power for the adjacent camp facilities.

ROADS. Each station has a road system to facilitate travel to the various points on the station. Roads are constructed of a two to four , foot layer of nonfrostacting gravel laid over the Arctic tundra or permafrost. In addition to acting as the wearing surface, the gravel acts as an insulator to prevent transmission of heat to the permafrost, which must be kept from thawing to prevent frost heaving and damage to the road.

AIRFIELDS AND TAXIWAYS. The airstrips on the DEW Line are constructed of gravel and vary in dimension. At some stations, the ends of airstrips have been stabilized with soil cement to provide a suitable area for warming up aircraft engines and to better endure landings and take-offs. The typical main station airstrip is 5000 feet long by 150 feet wide but vary at each location in actual dimensions. The airstrip is equipped with standard Air Force medium intensity lighting systems. The power for the airstrip is supplied by means of a regulator located in the hangar or module train. The typical auxiliary station airstrip is 3500-4500 feet long by 100 feet wide and is equipped in the same manner as the Main site airstrips.

VEHICLES. Assigned to the DEW Line are 113 general purpose and 376 special purpose vehicles, and 221 items of aerospace ground equipment (AGE) for various support tasks. The DEW Line has many vehicles not commonly seen around the Air Force, such as light, fast tracked vehicles for carrying people and cargo between airstrip and station and for light snow-moving operations, as well as the special vehicles for water haul.

LOGISTICS. The largest and most complex task in running the DEW Line falls upon the logisticians. They must provide the required supplies and get them transferred to where they are needed and in time. How easy to say and hard to do, considering the far-flung and far-North locations of the stations.

The DEW Line stations are actively supported by 3 Supply Support Activities (SSA’s) which are strategically located to serve as both supply and transportation hubs. The SSA located at Fairbanks, Alaska supports the 6 Alaska stations the SSA located at Winnipeg, Canada supports the 21 Canadian stations; and the SSA located at Sondrestrom AB, Greenland supports the 4 Greenland stations. The SSA’s are responsible for determining annual sealift requirements as well as providing other modes of resupply, receiving individual requisitions from the stations, shipping receiving warehousing, etc.—in short, performing all functions normally ·accomplished by a base supply activity.

In addition to serving as a supply activity, the SSA’s are also responsible for air movement of personnel and perishable food, performing procurement functions, issuing and receiving personal Arctic gear as people go to and leave the DEW Line, and control of repairable material generated by their DEW Line stations.

TRANSPORTATION. The DEW Line operation is totally dependent upon a reliable, efficient transportation system. The basic transportation concept incorporates a combination of military and commercial sealift and airlift for movement of personnel and cargo.

The heart of the air transportation system revolves around the contract air service provided by MAC contract airlift. Requirements for this service are identified and definitized by the 4700 ADS and provided to MAC through a Statement of Work. Based upon detailed requirements, MAC obtains contracts to provide the necessary service. At the present time, the DEW Line passenger and cargo service is supported by 5 such contracts: (1) an air carrier staging out of Fairbanks, Alaska to provide service to Alaska DEW Line stations; (2) an air carrier staging out of Winnipeg, Canada providing “Vertical” service from there to Cambridge Bay (CAM-M) and Hall beach (FOX-M); (3) an air carrier providing “lateral” service from CAM-M/FOX-M to other Canada DEW Line stations; (4) helicopter services between Sondrestrom AB and DYE-1 (which has no airstrip, and a fixed-wing service between Sondrestrom and DYE-2, 3, and 4; and (5) contract air service providing the annual fuel resupply of the landlocked and the icelocked stations (CAM-4, 5, and FOX-3). During FY84, a total of 7,210 tons of cargo was moved by contract air services to support the DEW Line.

ANNUAL SEALIFT RESUPPLY OPERATION. The annual sealift continues to be the major cargo mover to support the DEW Line operation. Each year a major transportation operation, utilizing barges, tugs, cargo ships, oil tankers, ice breakers and aircraft delivers thousands of tons of supplies to the DEW Line stations in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. For example, in FY 1984, 36,266 tons of cargo were delivered. Due to geographic locations of the stations and the resultant freeze-up of water approaches, delivery can only be effected once yearly, within a “window” of only 56 to 65 days.

FOOD SERVICE. Non-perishable subsistence supplied to the Early Warning System stations is procured through USAF supply channels. Perishables in Greenland are supplied by the Sondrestrom Air Base Commissary, while the commissary at Eielson AFB is the supplier for the stations in Alaska. Perishables in Canada are obtained via local purchase methods by the Winnipeg SSA from Canadian sources. Perishable food is supplied to the sites at least twice monthly; and unperishable (staple food items) are supplied annually, via the annual resupply effort.

Preparation and serving of food is the responsibility of the OM contractor. Meals are provided in accordance with a DEW Line Food Plan and Master Menu which is reviewed and approved by the DEW System Office. They strive to feed the DEWLiners well!!!!!

ACCOMODATIONS ON THE LINE. Housing facilities at DEW Line main stations consist of a series of module trains. Each train consists of modules with individual rooms, 8Xl2 feet, located along both sides of a central corridor. To provide additional shelter, some station’s have small 24-man dormitories, adjacent to the module trains.

In planning your personal needs, remember the quarters are very small. Room furnishings consist of a bed, desk, chest, and chair(s).

MESSING. At all DEW Line sites, you will be pleasantly surprised to find a cuisine of international flavor prepared by fine chefs. Watch your diet! ! I !

MEDICAL AND DENTAL CARE. Such services on the Line is limited. All sites are required to have first aid trained personnel available at all times. The sites maintain a fairly complete inventory of  medicines, and in cases other than colds, headaches, etc., the first aid technician calls a doctor and obtains, details for treatment. This is normal in the Arctic where doctors are scarce, and weather may prohibit air movement. Under emergency or suspected emergency conditions, personnel are air evacuated to the nearest medical facility. IF YOU ARE ON SPECIAL MEDICATION, BRING 6 MONTHS SUPPLY.

BASE EXCHANGE. A limited sales store is operated at each station by the contractor. Prices are slightly in excess of normal prices. Supplies such as toiletries, smoking supplies, candy, stamps, envelopes, and other miscellaneous items are sold. There are no stores available at the sites, except at the main stations that are adjacent to communities. The purchase of unusual or hard to find items is difficult. You may not be able to purchase your favorite toothpaste, cologne  or deodorant. Insure that you purchase enough to last, your stay.

LIVING ON THE DEW LINE. The climate on the DEW Line is very dry with almost all precipitation falling as snow during the fall and winter months. Comfortable temperatures prevail during the summer months with average maximums of slightly over 50 degrees and minimums of 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Should you arrive in July, the temperatures may well be +63*F, and the sun will be visible above the horizon 24 hours a day until mid-August when the long winter nights begin to blanket the region in darkness. By contrast, winter average daytime maximums range from plus 10 to minus 28 degrees F., depending on the location, with record lows to minus 83 degrees. The prevalent strong winter winds bring the “chill factors” much lower, affecting all exposed equipment, stores, and materials.

The most formidable foe in the Arctic is the unrelenting cold. At -30*F, exposed flesh will freeze solid in 3 minutes. When a 30-knot wind is blowing at the same temperature, freezing time plummets to 30 seconds. At the start of each work shift, and at frequent intervals throughout the day and night, all personnel are informed of the temperature, the wind velocity, and the “chill factor” of this combination–the damaging potential of the temperature when intensified by the wind. Artificial winds, too, add a potentially lethal chill factor to the existing temperatures. For example, in less than a minute, the cold blast of an airplane’s prop-wash can cause serious injury to bare hands or face.

With logical precautions and common sense, your trip can be both comfortable and enjoyable regardless of the cold. Dress for the occasion and take along a buddy if you have to leave the module, especially during the dark hours or in a storm condition.

Almost unbelievably, the second greatest hazard is sunburn. Whenever the ground is covered with snow, whether the sun is shining or the sky is overcast, sunglasses must be worn outdoors to avoid sunblindness, a painful burn of the eye. Other parts of the face, too, are affected when exposed to direct or reflected sunlight. To prevent this, apply chapstick to exposed parts of the face, especially the lips, nostrils, and the skin around the eyes.

In the flat, almost shadowless expanse of the tundra plains, you may have the opportunity to experience one of the most baffling phenomena of the North, the “White-out”.

A white-out is eerie, spooky and dangerous. It is caused by certain light and snow conditions when the entire world turns an unbroken shade of grey. In a white-out, there is neither front nor back, up nor down, nor any sense of movement–only a feeling on being suspended in space. Your travel, e.g. by truck or by tracked vehicle, may be stalled for hours under white-out conditions. Anyone taking a few steps in the grey runs a risk of being lost within a stone’s throw of shelter and safety.

Polar bears are occasionally encountered at several sites. Just remember, they are very dangerous animals. If one comes into the site and is menacing, the Station Chief will decide the best course of action. Be very cautious of any wild animals since rabies among these animals is prevalent. DO NOT TRY TO BE A HERO AND VENTURE OUTSIDE.

The greatest potential man-made hazard on the Line is FIRE. On almost all the sites, the personnel are their own fire department, so know the location and use of fire protection systems. Look for and report any potential hazard. DO NOT SMOKE IN BED AT ANY TIME!!!!!

RECREATION. The Arctic is a sportsman’s paradise, but hunting is only permitted in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada (BAR-1 and BAR-2). No private weapons are allowed on the DEW Line in Canada. The fishing in many areas of Alaska and Canada is exceptional during various seasons of the year. Boating, hiking, exploring, volleyball, and baseball are available at most stations during the summer months. Year-round activities include satellite TV, ping pong darts, cards, chess, photography, pool, shuffleboard, and other assorted games.  Small library facilities, stereo record players and various social activities are also available.



  1. Two suitcases at most, one if you can get away with it. A B-4 bag is recommended
  2. One airline/gym bag to act as carry-on luggage for toilet kit, underwear, towels, etc., to last a couple of days in case your luggage gets misplaced.
  3. Briefcase, if needed.


  1.  Comfortable, warm, general purpose footwear.
  2. One pair of shower thongs.
  3. Socks, athletic
  4. Jeans
  5. Underwear
  6. Shirts
  7. Sweaters
  8. Gym Clothes
  9. Towel and wash cloth
  10. Bath robe
  11. Heavy outerwear
  12. Gloves and hats


  1. Small cassette player and tapes
  2. Camera and film (a must)
  3. Alarm clock, travel
  4. Toilet kit
  5. Sewing kit
  6. Nail clippers
  7. Sis months supply of medication, if required
  8. Contact lens solution

ARCTIC AREA FACTS AND HISTORICAL SKETCHES. The DEW Line extends east and west across the high Arctic at roughly the 69th parallel. On the average, it is about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 1200 miles from the North Pole.

Its western end is anchored on the northern coast of Alaska. with only a handful of widely separated towns, it is a remote and desolate section. But in comparison with the area along the DEW Line to the east, it is densely populated and highly developed.

In Alaska and western Canada, the Line crosses flat, treeless tundra along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. It is soggy muskeg during the short warm period; then for nine months of the year it lies covered with so much ice and snow that it’s hard to tell where the land ends and sea begins. It makes little difference, anyway, for the thick sea ice is practically solid and-substantial as the earth itself. As you following the DEW Line across Canada, the farther east you go the more forbidding the country comes. It starts out being rugged and treacherous and ends up on the east coast of Baffin Island a nightmare of precipitous mountains and rocky gorges.

The area along the DEW Line may be desolate, but it is steeped in the history of Arctic exploration. Some station sites had never been seen from the ground by white men before the DEW siting crews arrived. But at other locations the siting engineers had for company the spirits of some of history’s greatest explorers. One site is within walking distance of the spot where Sir John Franklin perished in 1847 during his ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage; another looks down on the remains of a ship abandoned by Roald Amundsen in the early 1900. And more recently, it was near Point Barrow that Wily Post and Will Rogers died in an airplane crash in 1935.

NOTE: The last two pages of the original document are missing.

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