No Modernization on their Radar: The Long Road to DEW Line Replacement


  • Alexander Daniel Defence Research and Development Canada/Department of National Defence/Government of Canada


The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line was originally built in the mid-1950s to provide advance warning of Soviet bomber incursions into North America. Although plans for its replacement were approved as shortly thereafter as 1967, the DEW Line was not ultimately decommissioned until 1993. This paper shows how strategic-political alliance factors contributed to delays in DEW Line modernization. First, air defence as a political priority became subordinate to missile defence for nearly two decades after the DEW Line’s construction was completed. Second, when a 1979 study revived interest in air defence among political decision makers, churn in political leadership on both sides of the border, along with the relationships between Canadian and American leaders, help explain why the agreement to replace the DEW Line with the North Warning System (NWS) was not completed until 1985. These factors are then considered in light of the current period of NORAD modernization, and in particular, the modernization of the NWS.

Author Biography

Alexander Daniel, Defence Research and Development Canada/Department of National Defence/Government of Canada

Alexander Michael Daniel is a Defence Scientist and operational researcher with the Center for Operational Research and Analysis (CORA) at Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). He completed a Master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto in 2017 and joined DRDC’s Ottawa Research Centre that same year where his research focused on radar signal processing and resource management. Since moving to CORA in 2019, his work has included machine learning techniques for intelligence analysis and operational research in support of NORAD modernization. He is currently a member of CORA’s NORAD Operational Research Team at Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs.