NORAD bolsters Cheyenne Mountain for added protection

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Senior Airman David Williams stands guard at the entrance of Cheyenne Mountain, the only Priority Level 1 Combined Joint Air Force Operational Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Facility in the world.

Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, announced that certain significant communications assets are being moved into Cheyenne Mountain in order to protect them from electromagnetic pulse attacks.

“There is a lot of movement to put capability into Cheyenne Mountain and to be able to communicate in there,” Gortney said during a news briefing Tuesday at the Pentagon.

The asset deployment will be carried out by Raytheon, which last week signed a $700 million contract to upgrade communications facilities within the mountain redoubt.

The company said that the long-term contract will “support threat warnings and assessments for the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.”

Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) can occur naturally in lightning storms, but the U.S. military is primarily concerned with vast pulse events deliberately created by the detonation of nuclear weapons in outer space. Such a pulse could effectively shut down the all civilian and military communications networks in the continental United States.

Ten years ago, the United States EMP Commission concluded that the civilian communications infrastructure of the United States and much of the military infrastructure were less well protected against EMP than during the Cold War.

“Because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain is built, it’s EMP-hardened,” Gortney said. “It wasn’t designed to be that way, but the way it was constructed makes it that way. My primary concern was whether we (would) have the space inside the mountain for everybody that wants to move in there. We do have that capability.”

It’s part of the continuing resurrection of the Cold War bunker, which was virtually abandoned by the military in the past decade. Conceived in 1958, it was designed to protect military communications systems from a Soviet nuclear attack. It was so lightly regarded by 2007 that the Business Journal published a feature story speculating about the possible benefits of repurposing the site as a regional tourist attraction. Area tourism officials were enthusiastic about the idea, noting Cheyenne Mountain’s mythic stature in American popular culture.

In recent years, Cheyenne Mountain has continued to serve as a backup for NORAD’s modern operations at Peterson Air Force Base, with work stations inside the mountain still capable of mirroring all aspects of monitoring the world.

Alas, it appears that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behavior on the world stage may have ensured that Cheyenne Mountain won’t be available for tourism development in the foreseeable future, if ever.

It looks as if we’ll have to settle for Terminator and Wargames on Netflix.

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