This black structure, an ultra-high frequency directional antenna, and many others like it, formed part of the Distant Early Warning, or DEW, Line designed in 1954 at President Dwight Eisenhower’s direction. He wanted a means of detecting the possibility of Soviet bombers armed with nuclear weapons coming in over the North Pole. The construction of a series of stations starting in Alaska and stretching across all of northern Canada and then on to Greenland began shortly after both the president’s authorization and the decision of our Commonwealth partner, Canada, to collaborate.
With U.S. funding support, Canada accomplished all of the surveys, many in their largely uncharted and inhospitable northern territories. The Canadians also built the stations with contract assistance from the Federal Electric Corporation, then a division of ITT, and manned the facilities on their soil with personnel from both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. subsidiary of AT&T, Western Electric, took responsibility for the electronic systems used by the allied personnel, with Bell Laboratories designing the equipment and conducting the final acceptance tests. Raytheon designed and built the long-range radar systems, and Collins Radio, the U.S. company that supplied Rear Adm. Richard Byrd with the communication devices he took to the South Pole in 1933, supplied scatter radio systems attuned to the Arctic environment.
Arctic atmospheric and climate conditions made it difficult to use high-frequency radio waves effectively as the basic means of detection and transmission. Instead a combination of systems using high-powered transmitters, ultra-high frequencies, and multiple highly directional antennas worked together in a new way called scatter communications. This innovation made the DEW Line effective. The lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the troposphere, permitted refraction of radio signals due to moisture, sending refracted or “scattered” signals in predictable directions. Those angles determined the positioning of directional antennae clusters formed by two or three of the black monoliths. In addition, long-range radar provided the primary detection capability, and shorter-range radars, mounted on 300-foot towers, guarded against any Soviet attempt to fly under the coverage.