The White Alice Communications System (WACS) in Alaska was built in various phases, eventually consisting of 71 separate facilities. Components of the system were far flung, ranging from Cape Lisburne, on the North Slope of Alaska, in the north; to Northeast Cape, on Saint Lawrence Island, Bering Strait, in the west; to Shemya, near the end of the Aleutian Chain, in the southwest; to Smuggler Cove, in the Alexander Archipelago, in the southeast; to Beaver Creek, near the Canadian border to the east. Components of such a vast system were naturally located in a variety of local environments and extremes of all kinds were the rule, not the exception. Local environment was one of the few parameters which allowed for any variation in design or layout because the installations were utilitarian in nature and all served the same function (see "standard" floor plans at the end of this section). The other two major variables were 1) whether a military facility already existed at the site, and 2) the type of communications used. In many cases, Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) sites or Distant Early Warning (DEW-line) installations were already established at a particular location and White Alice equipment was installed as backup communications for the in-place function. In these cases, existing facilities were used. The two different communications types were "tropo" stations and TD-2 microwave stations. Tropo stations, short for forward propagation tropospheric scatter (FPTS), were found in isolated areas and TD-2’s were, and still are, found along major road systems. TD-2, in contrast to tropo, does not stand for anything in particular. It is like a car model; "Porsche 911," for example. There were several larger facilities where the two networks overlapped, containing TD-2 microwave towers and tropo antennas. TD-2’s and tropos needed different site configurations. They will be described below.
Of the 31 original WACS facilities, 22 were tropo installations. Tropos were, at the time, a dramatic new form of ultra high frequency (UHF) radio able to leap up to 200 miles by bouncing part of their signal off the troposphere. At the transmitting site, telephone conversations and telegraph messages were combined into a single radio signal. A "feed horn" in front of a "billboard" or "movie screen" antenna sprayed the signal against the parabolic antenna surface, which beamed the signal toward the horizon. The small portion that was not lost was deflected downward by the troposphere, about five miles above the earth. Tropo equipment was so sensitive, it could capture one ten-trillionth of the transmitted signal and still make sense of it. The deflected signal was caught by another billboard antenna and, if necessary, amplified and sent on to the next WACS facility. So revolutionary was this technology in 1955, when it was first put into use in Alaska, and elsewhere, that an article written 11 years later identified three alternative hypotheses to explain the tropospheric propagation mechanism (Gunther 1966)
Six of the 31 installations were the more conventional microwave stations; smaller (consisting of a radio relay building and a microwave tower), more accessible and easier to maintain and operate. Three of the facilities combined tropo and TD-2 microwave antennas together. The original 31 Installations are listed in Table 1, below, by type.
The tropo facilities tended to be much larger than the microwave installations and were often located near AC&W sites. When a WACS site was located at the same site as another military site, it was called a "colocated" facility because dorms, mess, auto maintenance shops, and other buildings were usually shared instead of constructing new ones. Of the 31 original sites, 14 were colocated. These are indicated by an asterisk in Table 1.
It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, and the Western Electric Company (WECO), three years to build the original WACS system for the Air Force. The original contract had been for 30 million dollars, but, due to several cost overruns, the project cost on the order of 113 million dollars. The next segment of WACS to be constructed was a series of TD-2 microwave installations to support the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) at Clear Air Force Base. This phase of White Alice provided a dual communications route to the Lower 48", one going down the southeast coast (the A Route) to the Ketchikan-Seattle submarine cable, and the other, going east to the Canadian border (B Route) through Canada, down to the lower 48. The ultimate destination of both routes was NORAD In Colorado. Because of this, they were also called the Rearward Communications system. These stations are listed in Table 2, on the next page.
THE ORIGINAL WHITE ALICE SYSTEM
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