DOD moving comms gear back into Cold War bunker

Navy Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, briefs reporters at the Pentagon, April 7, 2015. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz )

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Largely unused since 1996, a Cold War-era military command and control complex buried deep beneath Colorado’s Rocky Mountains will soon become home once again to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of modern communications systems.

Admiral William Gortney, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, acknowledged during a press briefing Tuesday that the Pentagon was moving communications equipment back into the Cheyenne Mountain military complex because of the growing threat of electromagnetic pulses. An EMP, as it is known, is a high-intensity burst of electromagnetic energy that can occur naturally during things like massive solar flares or can be induced by detonating a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere. The energy released in an EMP can destroy the electronic components that power much of modern society.

Gortney was questioned about the equipment movement because of news last week that the Pentagon had awarded Raytheon a $700 million contract to begin installing and supporting systems in the mountain complex. The facility, a Cold-War era command and control bunker made famous by the 1983 movie WarGames, has been largely dormant since the Pentagon moved much of NORAD’s command center to nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

“Because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain’s built, it’s EMP-hardened. And so, there’s a lot of movement to put capability into Cheyenne Mountain and to be able to communicate in there, and that’s what that contract’s letted for in order to do that,” Gortney said.

Although Gortney declined to say what military or government agencies would work from Cheyenne Mountain in the event of an EMP incident or attack, the protective capability provided by the complex lends itself to ensuring continuity of government during times of national crisis.

The threat of EMPs to the nation’s critical infrastructure, particularly military command and control systems, the digital financial system and the national electric grid, has become a major focus area for the homeland security community and Congress. Experts, including members of the 2001 Congressional EMP Commission, have repeatedly warned that a major EMP event could have devastating consequences for the nation and could lead to widespread unrest.

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Admiral William Gortney
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