White Alice Communications System

The Origins of the Name

In 1953, the Integrated Communications Systems Alaska met in Washington, DC, to plan the military communications system in Alaska. When the time came for finding a code name for the project, which was classified at the time, the group settled on ALICE. ALICE was the acronym for Alaska Integrated Communications Enterprise. However, the nickname had to be composed of two words, and White was chosen because it described the arctic north. So, the name became ALICE White. However, there was an old silent movie actress named Alice White, and code names were not supposed to be the same as people. Therefore, the group flipped the name to White ALICE, and the name stuck.

White Alice Communications System

On 19 January 1954, The Alaskan Command formed a working group under Brigadier General E.L. Sykes, J-3, Alaskan Command to develop an air defense communications system supporting government agencies in the territory. Known as the Theater Communications Study Group, it was comprised of representatives from all military commands in Alaska, the Alaska Communication System, and the Civil Aeronautics Administration to recommend a reliable communications system of Alaska's air defense system. The group met in eighteen regular and two extraordinary meetings between 21 January 1954 and 10 October 1955. The discussions ultimately led to the "717" Project, known as the White Alice Communications System.

By 1 May 1954, the Theater Communications Study Group submitted a detailed report that consolidated all Alaska agencies' future communications requirements. The Secretary of the Air Force approved the report and submitted it to American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) for an extensive field survey. AT&T established a goal of providing a fixed, multi-channel communications system that would be completely reliable, free from jamming, and capable of being expanded.

By November 1954, AT&T completed its communications study and recommended that a tropospheric scatter system be built to connect the aircraft control and warning radar sites. The study also suggested a microwave system be built along any nearby road network. AT&T tested the relatively new communications system in the Northeast Air Defense Sector, which consisted of 33 stations providing 24 tropospheric scatter and eight TD-2 microwave links. The Secretary of Defense and the Bureau of Budget approved the plan.

The initial estimates for the construction of the tropospheric scatter and microwave communications system ranged from an estimated $90,000,000.00 by Alaska Air Command to $158,000,000.00 evaluated by AT&T. They based the estimates on educated guesses without the benefit of exhaustive fieldwork. The Bureau of Budget asked in September 1954 for a more definitive figure. Based on Air Force guidance that the costs include only the circuits needed by the military and those required by the other Federal agencies. So, Alaska Air Command and AT&T came up with an estimate of $38,432,605.00 to begin construction in 1955. Another $8,000,000.00 was projected for equipment for the fiscal year 1955. Estimated funding for the fiscal year 1956 came to $30,432,605.00. The Department of Defense and the Bureau of Budget approved the figures.

Alaskans used the White Alice Communication System until 1980 when the last sight closed because the technology was obsolete.