Carved into the side of Cheyenne Mountain in the 1960’s, Cheyenne Mountain Complex hosted the U.S. Command Center that monitored and received early warning for potential attacks from Cold War-era villains in the Soviet Union. Cheyenne Mountain played an important role by protecting U.S. command, control, and communications from any nuclear attacks. A decade ago, the North American Aeropsace Defense Command (NORAD) relocated to nearby Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, CO.
But the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, now called Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, is going to play a similar role nearly 50 years later.
“Because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain is built, it’s EMP-hardened,” Admiral William Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD said. “It wasn’t really designed to be that way, but the way it was constructed makes it that way.” “And so, there’s a lot of movement to put capability into Cheyenne Mountain and to be able to communicate in there,” Gortney continued.
Electromagnetic pulses (EMP) have been a hot topic for defense planners due to the heightened ability for adversaries to attack the U.S. homeland with devices designed to fry electronics and the electrical grid. NASA also has concerns that a X-class EMP, caused by solar flares called coronal mass ejections, could disrupt or destroy the civilian electrical grid. Some of those flares have been at least 14 times the size of the Earth. NASA officials have estimated that the cost of an X-class EMP hitting the U.S. could kill up to 90% of the population through lack of electricity and basic services.
Department of Defense facilities rely on the civilian electrical grid by 99%, yet DHS doesn’t count EMPs in its top 15 threats for its National Planning Scenarios. So it’s funny that the Pentagon last week awarded a $700 million contract to defense contractor Raytheon to install communications equipment inside the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Raytheon will support the Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment (ITW/AA). According to the contract details, “The program provides ITW/AA authorities accurate, timely and unambiguous warning and attack assessment of air, missile and space threats.”
Raytheon was awarded the contract partly based on its Multi-Source Correlator Tracker and Tactical Display Framework, which will allow NORAD units to better track potential airborne and spaceborne threats. “Raytheon has deep expertise in sustainment and modification solutions that include sensor and software systems, radars, command and control, and range-engineering services,” said David Wajsgras, President of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services.
And, apparently, Cheyenne Mountain looks like a sporty retreat location for a lot more than ITW/AA equipment.
“My primary concern was: ‘Are we going to have the space inside the mountain for everybody that wants to move in there?’ … but we do have that capability,” Admiral Gortney said.
In a 2013 speech, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called NORAD and Cheyenne Mountain “the nerve center of defense for North America.”
(Analyst Comment: The Pentagon must prepare for a myriad of scenarios, which includes an EMP attack, so it’s no surprise that they’re spending money to ensure redundancy and protect critical communications. North Korea has likely been working on developing EMP weapons that can be launched by ballistic missile to detonate over the U.S. Given the high likelihood of EMP weaponization, North Korea is probably receiving assistance from Russia. In 2013, North Korea allegedly practiced an EMP strike on the States. The ability of U.S. and other nation militaries to stop an EMP attack from North Korea is unknown. Much of that ability depends on the vector of attack. Given that an unsuccessful attack would mean the destruction of the Kim regime in North Korea, an attack is unlikely, except in the case of North Korean national survival. A natural EMP event is the more likely of the two.)