ARMY AIR DEFENSE INSTALLATIONS IN ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY: 1950-1973
by Merle T. Cole
In February 1950, the U.S. Army's 35th Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) Brigade transferred from Fort Bliss, Texas to Fort Meade, Maryland. For the next two decades, the brigade controlled air defense batteries which served as the last line of defense for Washington and Baltimore against Soviet long-range bombers. Many command and firing elements of this major strategic network were situated in Anne Arundel County.
Although the Army had been assigned a major role in continental air defense in 1948, it did not establish a specific command for this purpose until July 1, 1950, immediately after the Korean War broke out. The Army Antiaircraft Command - commonly known by the acronym ARAACOM - performed planning and oversight functions until April 1951, when it assumed actual operational control of Army air defense units throughout the United States. Army National Guard (ARNG) batteries were included in the air defense mission starting in March 1954, largely because the Regular Army did not have sufficient batteries to meet the nationwide requirement.
By the end of July 1952, 35th AAA Brigade had deployed 90-mm. and 120-mm. gun batteries around both Washington (under 19th AAA Group) and Baltimore (under 208th AAA Group). On March 28, 1956, the "Washington-Baltimore Defense" was activated under 35th Brigade control. "Defense" was an ARAACOM administrative designation for a defended locality. Brigades such as the 35th exercised control of tactical units (batteries, battalions and groups) within defenses until December 1973, when brigade echelons were replaced by groups (23d in Washington-Baltimore) as a cost cutting measure.
In December 1953, ARAACOM began converting from gun to missile batteries. The first conversion occurred when 36th AAA Battalion at Fort Meade traded its 120-mm. guns for the new Nike-Ajax guided surface-to-air missile (SAM). The unit was accordingly redesignated 36th AAA Missile Battalion. By 1955, ARAACOM had more missile than gun batteries in its Regular Army component, and the command was "all missile" by June 1960. On March 21, 1957, ARAACOM itself was redesignated, becoming Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM). This title was preferred because "antiaircraft" was too closely associated with obsolete gun defenses. Six months later, ARADCOM became part of America's contribution to the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
NORAD operated an extensive radar network providing blanket coverage of the aerial approaches to North America. Canadian and American air force squadrons were responsible for early detection, identification and engagement of hostile targets at maximum range. This "area defense" mission was accomplished by manned interceptors and long-range, nuclear tipped Bomarc missiles. Both interceptors and missiles were controlled by the Air Force SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) command and control system. SAGE centers also fed data to Army Air Defense Command Posts (AADCP). If "area defense" failed, AADCP's would activate the "point defense" mission by directing Nike batteries to launch against penetrator aircraft. Thus, Nike batteries were the "ultimate defense" of protected localities. The AADCP at Fort Meade operated the first Missile Master system in the United States, which became operational in December 1957 under 35th Artillery Brigade. Missile Master could coordinate a maximum of 24 firing batteries. In mid-1958 ARADCOM began replacing Ajax with the more capable, nucleartipped Nike-Hercules SAM. Fewer batteries were needed to sustain the same level of defense. And fewer batteries meant reduced fire control requirements. Thus, the Fort Meade AADCP replaced Missile Master with Missile Mentor (capable of coordinating up to 16 firing batteries) in August 1966.