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98198. Mountain Nerve Center Remains Relevant to Warfighting

By Douglas J. Gillert

American Forces Press Service

	COLORADO SPRINGS -- Beneath the pine-studded granite 

mass of Cheyenne Mountain lie 15 buildings as tall as three 

stories. They rest on 1,319 springs that weigh 1,000 pounds 

each and are designed to cushion the original vacuum-tube 

computers against the shock of an earthquake or a nuclear 

explosion. Rock bolts -- 115,000 of them ranging from 6 to 

32 feet in length -- prevent the mountain from imploding on 

the vast, high-tech cavern.

	DoD built the hidden fortress in the early 1960s, when 

the fear of a Soviet nuclear attack was frighteningly real. 

Inside Cheyenne Mountain were placed the computers and 

telephones and people who would watch for incoming missiles 

and notify the president if and when an attack on North 

America occurred.

	Theirs was a doomsday scenario: In the event of such an 

attack, the giant double-sets of doors at either end of the 

access tunnel would swing shut and seal the underground 

command post and its inhabitants from a world possibly gone 

mad. Inside, there's enough food and water to sustain 

hundreds for 30 days. By then, so the scenario goes, the 

attack would be over and they could go outside to see what 

remained of the civilization they were charged to defend.

	Thirty-three years after the complex began operations, 

a cold Rocky Mountain wind blows and swirls snow around the 

north entrance, or portal. You have to go through a security 

police checkpoint and radar detector to get this far. Then, 

you're moved by bus to the inner sanctum. 

Although the complex remains fully operational, in 

1998, Cheyenne Mountain, the stuff of science fiction and 

Hollywood, is a popular tourist attraction. It is host to 

more than 19,000 visitors annually.

	But what of its relevance to today's military? The 

Soviets no longer pose a viable threat. Why does DoD 

maintain this mysterious complex? Has the complex, in fact, 

remained relevant to DoD operations for the '90s and beyond?

	"Absolutely," said Air Force Col. Gary Shugart, chief 

of staff of the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center. "For 

example, during Desert Storm, the [operations center] warned 

American commanders and the Israelis of each incoming Scud 


	Space-based communications satellites the complex 

monitors detected targets before strikes and damage done 

after strikes, and they provided commanders weather 

information vital to combat operations planning and 

execution, added Marine Maj. Jolene Hollingshead. And 

stationary, radar-laden, hot-air balloons patrol the 

southern U.S. border to detect illegal drug traffickers, an 

increasing responsibility for DoD.

	Much of what goes on inside Cheyenne Mountain is 

updated from 1960s operations. Some 1,250 people from all 

the service branches and the Canadian armed forces staff 

three separate elements: the North American Aerospace 

Defense Command, U.S. Space Command and Air Force Space 


	Their tasks are divided into work centers with varying 

responsibilities. Each resembles what you'd imagine a 

military operations center to look like, only smaller than 

Hollywood usually depicts. Bright, back-lit maps of North 

America, and some of the entire planet, reflect the watchful 

gazes of duty officers whose ranks go as high as four stars. 

The maps also reflect the constant flow of information 

brought down from satellites by tracking stations and sent 

by hardened microwave towers and fiber optics into the 

bowels of Cheyenne Mountain.

	Heavy logbooks marked "Secret" and banks of telephones, 

including the red one that links the NORAD-U.S. Space 

Command commander in chief to the president, surround 

computer suites in the tightly packed Combined Command 

Center. Here, senior officers, including the CinC, Air Force 

Gen. Howell M. Estes III, watch, wait and worry about 

aircraft and missiles that could be targeted against North 


Another screen on the high walls shows the location of 

the president, vice president, Canadian prime minister and 

other senior government and military leaders. If one duty 

officer lifts the beige phone from his console to sound a 

warning, everyone here and in the work centers takes the 

call and responds as necessary. Somebody always is on duty 

inside Cheyenne Mountain.

	The NORAD Battle Management Center tracks nearly 3 

million aircraft a year to prevent any overflight by hostile 

aircraft and to detect cruise missile threats. Relevant? The 

center tracked 670 "unknowns" in 1997, many of them 

suspected drug traffickers. The center tracks these "UFOs," 

then turns such information over to other agencies, such as 

the Drug Enforcement Administration, for action.

	The Missile Warning Center detects missile and rocket 

launches anywhere on Earth and determines whether they 

threaten North America or U.S. and Canadian troops stationed 

overseas. Relevant? Twenty nations now have the capability 

to launch ballistic missiles, according to Air Force Col. 

Tim Kelly, director of the NORAD Space Operations Center.

	The Space Control Center detects, identifies, tracks 

and catalogs all manmade objects in space, down to the size 

of a six-inch bolt. Relevant? "More than 8,000 manmade 

objects currently orbit Earth," Hollingshead said. Most of 

these objects travel in near-earth orbit, at a speed of 

17,000 miles per hour. "A small piece striking the space 

shuttle at that speed would be catastrophic," she said.

	Maybe operations like this could be conducted someplace 

else -- someplace more easily accessible, for example, than 

the side of a mountain some 7,100 feet above sea level. But 

DoD built the complex for just $142 million, and the General 

Accounting Office estimates it would cost $18 billion to 

duplicate today. It operates on an annual budget of only 

about $175 million, Shugart said. And with today's interests 

in cost efficiency, the complex operates without air 

conditioners or heaters! The cave's natural temperature 

stays between 50 and 55 degrees, while the compound's 

computers generate the heat required to keep building 

thermostats at 70 to 72 degrees.

	With Global Positioning System devices becoming common 

in everything from Humvees to Harriers, Cheyenne Mountain 

sensors are as relevant as ever, Shugart said. And, should 

the United States follow through with plans for a ballistic 

missile defense system, this ageless mountain conclave will 

serve as its nerve center.


image A bus lumbers toward the tunnel entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs, shuttling workers back and forth from the secretive and heavily fortified compound. Inside, photos are strictly prohibited, while some 1,250 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians and Canadian armed forces personnel work in the 15-building complex. Douglas J. Gillert

image Before any vehicles can enter the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, they must pass a rigorous security police check inside a "cage" that prevents the vehicle from moving forward or back. This pickup truck was denied further access for unknown reasons, and within a few minutes the driver sped back down the mountainside toward nearby Peterson Air Force Base to rectify the problem. Douglas J. Gillert

image Enjoying an unusually warm spring morning, military and civilian employees walk toward their jobs at the far end of the tunnel entrance to Cheyenne Mountain. Inside, they'll enjoy office temperatures of 70-72 degrees, warmed by heat generated by the complex's computers. Douglas J. Gillert