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    Inside NORAD’s Cheyenne Military Fortress

    A soldier stands at the entry that led inside the most fortified and secretive military installation in North America.
    Cheyenne Military Fortress is one of the U.S' enigmatic underground facility carved into granite rock, this military bunker was designed to deal with a nuclear attack on the U.S. and Canada. It now reported that the Pentagon has reactivated its underground redoubt as backup homeland defense headquarters.
    Cheyenne Underground Military Bunker the deterrence fortress deleveloped against foes during Cold War  
    The North American Aerospace Defense Command complex is in Colorado, the base was closed in the 2000s but reopened again due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fortress was built in the 1960s as the headquarters for North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canadian military command tasked to keep a watch on air and space, tracking objects approaching North America.

    The steel doors that protect the underground facility. RJ SANGOSTI
    The command was originally set up to track Soviet bombers, then ballistic missiles. After 9/11 it was also assigned a homeland defense mission, monitoring commercial airspace for signs of hijackings and provide early warnings. The facility is impenetrable because the bastion itself carved out of solid granite and the entrance is protected by 25-ton steel doors. 

    Buildings constructed inside sit on giant, 1,000-pound steel springs to absorb the shock of a nuclear blast. At its peak 1,800 U.S. and Canadian military personnel manned the facility, and dorm-style housing, cafeterias, food, water, and electricity made the facility self-sufficient in emergencies. This mountain delivers the best in natural defense, and the inherent protection of the surrounding rock is heightened by the addition of advanced man-made security measures.

    While NORAD is an international defense organization, the strategy to keep this underground facility secure is not that different from the strategies used by some non-military facilities. Leveraging the naturally protective characteristics of the rock, the isolation and stable atmosphere inherent to an underground facility, and placement of all critical infrastructure within the underground shaft.

    The thousand-pound steel springs.Getty Images
    At the height of the Cold War in the late 1950s, the idea of a safe haven (U.M.B.) was conceptualized as a defense against long-range Soviet bombers. The Army Corps of Engineers supervised the excavation of Cheyenne Mountain and the construction of an operational center within the granite mountain.  The Cheyenne Mountain facility became fully operational as the NORAD Combat Operations Center on Feb. 6, 1967.

    Over the years thermonuclear weapons grew more powerful, making Cheyenne Mountain more vulnerable to attack. The facility became less important after the end of the Cold War, and in 2006 NORAD’s main functions were moved to nearby Peterson Air Force Base. Cheyenne Mountain was only lightly occupied, capable of being reactivated in the event of a crisis. Well, it’s 2020 and the crisis is here. In late March, according to The Washington Post, NORAD decided that the main facility at Peterson needed a backup in case it was shut down by pandemic. The U.S. military has about 5,000 cases of the coronavirus and the possibility of NORAD being no longer able to function was a real one.


    Cheyenne Mountain’s Operations Center, 1998. CRAIG F. WALKER
    NORAD's focus and facilities have both evolved to meet the asymmetric threats of the 21st century. On July 28, 2006, the Cheyenne Mountain Directorate was re-designated as the Cheyenne Mountain Division, with the mission to assist in establishing an integrated NORAD and USNORTHCOM Command Center within the headquarters building at Peterson Air Force Base.

    On the fiftieth anniversary of the NORAD agreement--May 12, 2008--the Command Center located within Cheyenne Mountain Complex was officially re-designated as the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Alternate Command Center.  The Cheyenne Mountain Division of NORAD and USNORTHCOM was re-designated as the J36 branch within the NORAD and USNORTHCOM's Operations Directorates.

    Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station is owned and operated by Air Force Space Command.  In fact, NORAD and USNORTHCOM use just under 30% of the floor space within the complex and comprise approximately 5% of the daily population at Cheyenne Mountain. Today, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex serves as NORAD and USNORTHCOM's Alternate Command Center and as a training site for crew qualification.  Day-to-day crew operations for NORAD and USNORTHCOM typically take place at Peterson Air Force Base.

    As the defender of North American aerospace, NORAD must keep its core functions running 24/7. The Post reports approximately 130 personnel were sent to Cheyenne Mountain to perform 12-hour watch shifts from the deep underground facility. The personnel live at Peterson and the nearby Air Force Academy. They are kept entirely separate from other military personnel, their take-home meals packed and kept waiting for them. 

    They even use alternate entrances into the facility, apparently taking a different entrance than the one made famous by the movie Wargames and the TV show Stargate SG-1So 60 years after it was built, Cheyenne Mountain is finally being used in a national security crisis—just not the one its original designers foresaw.



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