This 1950s Cold War propaganda film opens with hurried scenes of New York City and life in suburbia interspersed with images of a ballistic missile streaking across the sky until a massive explosion and mushroom cloud fills the screen at mark 01:07. “This is the threat,” the narrator grimly announces. The answer: “Ballistic Missile Early Warning System” — which also serves as the film’s title. Presented by RCA Defense Electronics Products Missile and Surface Radar Division, this color film was made in connection with the US Air Force “to inform the public about one of our vital defense programs.” As bombers lift off from airfields (mark 02:05), the narrator explains how “aggressors” will rely on sneak attacks to catch the US off guard, requiring the country to develop early warning systems. At mark 02:50, the viewer is given specifics regarding the BMEWS project, consisting of radar sites in Alaska, Greenland, and England. The radar systems are designed to detect the launch of enemy missiles, illustrated starting at mark 03:10, and would enable the US to launch a retaliatory strike “at full force.” As the film continues we see RCA engineers and military personnel meeting to discuss the project’s development and explains the roles of some of the 9,000 large and small businesses considered participants. There are various scenes at industrial plants (mark 06:00) as workers are shown constructing some of the necessary equipment, including massive radar components and transmitters, as well as computers. Frozen ground is shown being prepared for construction as building begin to take shape by mark 09:00. Each site is shown, including one under construction in Yorkshire, England (mark 12:17). “This is BMEWS, an electronic defense system to warn of enemy attack from the sky,” the narrator notes at mark 14:05as he lauds the military and industrial capability of the United States.
The RCA 474L Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS, "474L System", Project 474L) was a United States Air Force Cold War system of radar, computer, and communications systems that included ballistic missile detection radars. The network of 12 radars for detecting "a mass ballistic missile attack launched on northern approaches [for] 15 to 25 minutes warning time" also provided Project Space Track satellite data (e.g., about 1/4 of SPADATS observations)
The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) was a radar system built by the United States during the Cold War to give early warning of a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) nuclear strike, to allow time for US bombers to get off the ground and land-based US ICBMs to be launched, to reduce the chances that a preemptive strike could destroy US strategic nuclear forces. The shortest (great circle) route for a Soviet ICBM attack on North America is across the North Pole, so the first BMEWS facilities were built in the Arctic at Clear Air Force Station in central Alaska, and Site J near Thule Air Force Base, Thule, Greenland. When it became clear in the 1950s that the Soviet Union was developing ICBMs, the US was already building an early-warning radar system in the Arctic, the DEW line, but it was designed to detect bombers and didn't have the capability of tracking ICBMs. The challenges of designing a system which could detect and track a massive strike of hundreds of ICBMs was formidable; the time between when a Soviet missile would become visible at the horizon and when it would reach its target in the US was less than 20 minutes.
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This film is part of the Periscope Film LLC archive, one of the largest historic military, transportation, and aviation stock footage collections in the USA. Entirely film backed, this material is available for licensing in 24p HD, 2k and 4k. For more information visit http://www.PeriscopeFilm.com