Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11

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Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11 (1957-1963) - A Cold War SAGE System Direction Center first established in 1957 on Grand Forks Air Force Base near the City of Grand Forks, Grand Forks County, North Dakota. Named Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center after the location. Assigned a SAGE ID of DC-11. Deactivated as a SAGE Direction Center in 1963. Destroyed in 2003.

Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center Under Construction in the 1950s.

History of Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center

Established in February 1957 and became operational in April 1959 as Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11.

SAGE System Data Flow

Direction center equipment included the duplex FSQ-7 computer system and associated communication equipment. The FSQ-7 computer system assembled digitized inputs from USAF Radar Sites to provide tracking and identification of all aircraft within their sector of responsibility. The digitized radar inputs came from USAF Radar Sites, airborne radar pickets, Texas Towers, Gap Filler Radar Sites and other radar sources. The total picture of aircraft in the sector was assembled and any unknown aircraft were checked out and hostile aircraft were engaged by USAF fighter aircraft, Bomarc missiles or NIKE missiles. The primary defense was against the Soviet threat of a mass nuclear bomber attack on the US. The system evolved before the advent of ICBMs and provided no missile defense against them.

The computer technology was first generation vacuum tube equipment and required significant power and air conditioning. The physical plant of the direction center was enclosed in a large multi-story concrete blockhouse that housed the duplex FSQ-7 computer, communications equipment, a powerhouse, air conditioning systems and operational areas. The operational areas included radar mapping, air surveillance, identification, communications and weapons direction.

The enormous cost of the radar sites, direction centers, personnel, and training caused an immediate reevaluation and almost as quickly as they were built some facilities were closed. The first mass closures began in the 1960s when many radar sites and virtually all the gap filler sites were closed. The first round of direction center closures came in 1963 when six were closed, a second round in 1966 and a third in 1969 that closed a total of 17 out of 23. The remaining six direction centers became SAGE Regional Control Centers (RCCs) still using the massive FSQ-7 vacuum tube computers. As the direction centers and radar sites closed the remaining sites were realigned into ever-increasing sectors.

A new Joint Surveillance System (JSS) evolved as a partnership between the Air Force and the FAA to provide nationwide radar coverage. When completed in 1983 it consisted of only forty-six radar sites feeding into four new Region Operation Control Centers (ROCCs) with FYQ-93 computer systems. With the activation of the four U.S. ROCCs and the two Canadian ROCCs, the last seven of the SAGE direction centers were deactivated and this signaled the end of the SAGE system. Of the remaining forty-six radar sites, thirty-one had FAA-operated search radars and USAF operated height finders. Five sites just had FAA search radars and only ten sites were operated by the Military. With the deployment of forty FAA ARSR-4 3D radar sets in the 1990s, the earlier military and FAA radars were replaced.

The Canadians closed their underground SAGE Direction Center and created two ROCCs (CAN-East and CAN-West) using the FYQ-93 computers in the underground facility.

Closure

The Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center was among the first six SAGE direction centers selected to closed 1963. This first consolidation of direction centers came as technology improvements allowed for each direction center to handle a wider geographic area. The Malmstrom SAGE Direction Center DC-20 and the Duluth SAGE Direction Center DC-10 absorbed the territory covered by both the Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11 and the adjacent Minot SAGE Direction Center DC-19. In July 1963, Air Defense Command (ADC) turned Grand Forks AFB over to the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center was shut down at 9 am, 4 Sep 1963. SAC converted the SAGE building to house the 321st Strategic Missile Wing which would control a wing of Minuteman II missiles that became operational in December 1966.


Grand Forks SAGE Direction Center DC-11 Radar Sites (edit list)
Location Type State Unit ADC NORAD JSS From To GPS Notes
Willmar AFS MN 721st SM-139 1959-04 1961-06-01 45.138903,
-95.06893
Beausejour CFS MB 916th C-17 C-17 1959-04 1961-10-01 50.14806,
-96.22333
Wadena AFS MN 739th P-17 Z-17 1959-04 1963-09-04 46.51528,
-95.11278
Finley AFS ND 785th P-29 Z-29 J-75 1959-04 1963-09-04 47.51583,
-97.86861
Gettysburg AFS SD 903rd M-99 Z-99 1959-04 1963-09-04 45.04972,
-99.95611
Chandler AFS MN 787th P-18 Z-18 1961-03 1963-09-04 43.89778,
-95.94583

Current Status

SAGE Closure Panel at Cold War Memorial Plaza.
SAGE Mission Panel at Cold War Memorial Plaza.

The Sage Direction Center blockhouse was destroyed circa 2003 and the site was overbuilt with other base facilities. A memorial cold war plaza was built adjacent to the commissary building "...as accepted mitigation for the demolition of the historic SAGE building." The plaza includes twenty story board interpretive panels that outline the history of Grand Forks AFB, included are two panels that are devoted to the SAGE blockhouse, one with the mission and history and another that deals with the closure. At the center of the plaza is a nordic statue titled "The warrior of the North" that symbolizes the Scandinavian heritage of the area and the thousands of airmen that served on the base.


Location: Grand Forks Air Force Base, Grand Forks County, North Dakota.

Maps & Images

Lat: 47.94639 Long: -97.38194

See Also:

Sources:

  • Winkler, David F., Searching the skies: the legacy of the United States Cold War defense radar program, USAF Hq Air Combat Command, 1997, 192 pages, Pdf.
  • Cornett, Lloyd H. & Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization (1946-1980), Office of History ADC, Peterson AFB, Colorado, 31 Dec 1980, 179 pages, Pdf.
  • Ulmann, Bernd, AN/FSQ-7:the computer that shaped the Cold War, 2014, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, ISBN 978-3-486-72766-1, 272 pages.

Links:

Visited: 4 Aug 2016

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