KEY POINTS

  • The NORAD complex was designed to resist a nuclear attack
  • The base was closed in the 2000s
  • The complex has reopened due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The North American Aerospace Defense Command's Cheyenne Mountain underground facility has been reopened to help the military deal with U.S. defense amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The military base was built in the 1960s and designed to deal with a nuclear attack on North America. It served as the headquarters for NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canadian military command with the task to monitor the North American airspace.

During the Cold War era, the command tracked Soviet ballistic missiles and bombers. After 9/11 the base had a homeland defense mission, monitoring for hijackings of commercial flights. However, the ongoing global pandemic became its first real crisis. After being closed in the 2000s, the Cheyenne Mountain base will now serve as a backstop to the primary NORAD base at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

The Cheyenne Mountain base’s entrance is protected by 25-ton steel doors and the fortress is carved out of solid granite, according to Popular Mechanics. In order to be able to absorb the shock of a nuclear blast, buildings constructed inside sit on 1,000-pound steel springs. The facility is self-sufficient to continue to opearate during emergencies, being equipped with cafeterias, housing, electricity and water.

According to the Washington Post, about 130 troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Pete Fesler are deployed to the Cheyenne Mountain underground facility. The unit is mobilized for a new sensitive mission, adapting to new hazards over an unknown period of time. The team is living in isolation, prepared to take over U.S. air defense in case the primary NORAD base closes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Even as the Pentagon dispatches troops to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has challenged the military’s ability to perform its core missions. It has reduced the number of recruits entering the service, sidelined aircraft carriers, and resulted in the scaling back or postponement of international exercises. Two service members have died and around 5,000 personnel have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Despite the pandemic crisis, there are some essential “no-fail” missions, such as the 24/7 operation of the NORAD command center. The Cayenne Mountain underground facility ensures a backup capability in case of a worst-case scenario wherein personnel at the Peterson Air Force Base would be crippled by disease.

NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Fortress has been reactivated as a backup for Homeland Defense Headquarters during the COVID-19 pandemic. NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Fortress has been reactivated as a backup for Homeland Defense Headquarters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Pixabay