In January of 1956, Gen. Earle E. Partridge, commander in chief (CINC) of what was then the Continental Air Defense Command, laid the groundwork for the United States Department of Defense requirement for a new underground combat operations center. The old above-ground center, located on Ent Air Force Base, Colo., was too small to manage the growing air defense system and was highly vulnerable to sabotage or attack. This new combat operations center was to be remote from other prime targets and hardened to withstand a thermonuclear blast. Studies and analyses showed that a command center hollowed out of Cheyenne Mountain in the Colorado Springs area was the best solution and could be done at a reasonable cost.
To oversee this new command center and the entire air defense network of the United States and Canada, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was established. On May 12, 1958, the first NORAD agreement was signed by both countries, providing a framework for cooperative defense planning and operations between both governments.
Excavation began for the new NORAD Combat Operations Center in Cheyenne Mountain in May 1961. The excavation was nearly complete one year later except for the repair of a geological fault in the ceiling which was completed in May 1964. On February 6, 1966, the NORAD Combat Operations Center attained full operational capability. Operations were transferred from Ent Air Force Base to Cheyenne Mountain on April 20, 1966 at a total cost of $142.4 million.
Cheyenne Mountain Mission Evolution
Since its inception, the mission in the Mountain has continually evolved to adapt to the changing world situation. Future planning and incorporating leading technology have allowed Cheyenne Mountain to cover threats ranging from the early Soviet manned bombers through todays short-range ballistic missiles that threaten our troops deployed overseas.
The original requirement for an operations center in Cheyenne Mountain was to provide command and control in support of the air defense mission against the Soviet manned bomber threat, but several events and emerging technologies drove this mission to evolve. The launch of Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, on Oct. 4, 1957, demonstrated not only the accomplishments of the Soviet space program but also the capability to launch nuclear warheads from one continent to another. On November 30, 1957, the Air Research and Development Command established the first Space Surveillance Center at Hanscom Field, Mass., designed to receive, process, and catalog data on space objects. This Space Surveillance Center and its mission would eventually move to Cheyenne Mountain. In the early 1960s, the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles added another mission area for Cheyenne Mountain. Warning of a nuclear missile attack against the U.S. became a top priority. Missile warning and air sovereignty were the primary missions in the Mountain throughout the 1960s and 70s. During a brief period in the mid 1970s, the Ballistic Missile Defense Center was installed within the mountain. It was the command link between NORAD and the Continental Air Defense Command Combat Operations Center and the Safeguard Missile Defense Center at Grand Forks, ND. This now defunct anti-ballistic missile system was a complementary mission to the missile role.
In early 1979, the Air Force established a Space Defense Operations Center to counter the emerging Soviet anti-satellite threat. Although the space defense capabilities and systems established in Cheyenne Mountain were in their infancy, this marked the beginning of an increasing role in space.
The evolution continued into the 1980s when Air Force Space Command was created and tasked with the Air Force Space mission. Air Force Space Command formed the Space Combat Operations staff which absorbed control of the space/missile warning activities in Cheyenne Mountain. In April 1981, Space Defense Operations Center crews and their worldwide sensors, under the direction of Air Defense Command, supported the first flight of the space shuttle. Cheyenne Mountain has continued to support every shuttle mission since. The evolution continues into the 1990s.
In the latter part of the 1980s, the air sovereignty mission received renewed emphasis and continues to play a role today in working with U.S. and Canadian Customs Agencies. The Air Defense Operations Center uses its air defense network to provide surveillance and control of air operations to North America and unknown traffic including illegal drug traffickers.
Cheyenne Mountain Today
Today the NORAD Combat Operations Center has evolved into the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center which collects data from a worldwide system of satellites, radars, and other sensors and processes that information on sophisticated computer systems to support critical NORAD and U.S. Space Command missions. For the NORAD mission, the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center provides warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America, assists the air sovereignty mission for the United States and Canada, and, if necessary, is the focal point for air defense operations to counter enemy bombers or cruise missiles. In support of the U.S. Space Command mission, the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center provides a day-to-day picture of precisely what is in space and where it is located. The Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center also supports space operations, providing critical information such as collision avoidance data for space shuttle flights and troubleshooting satellite interference problems. Since the Persian Gulf War, the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center has continued to play a vital and expanding role in supporting our deployed forces with warning for short-range ballistic missiles such as the Iraqi SCUDs.
Cheyenne Mountain operations are conducted by six centers manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The centers are: Command Center, Air Defense Operations Center, Missile Warning Center, Space Control Center, Combined Intelligence Watch Center, and the Systems Center.
The Command Center is the heart of operations in Cheyenne Mountain. In this center, the Command Director and his crew serve as the NORAD and U.S. Space Command CINC's direct representative for monitoring, processing, and interpreting missile, space or air events which could have operational impacts on our forces or capabilities, or could be potential threats to North America or U.S. and allied forces stationed overseas. The Command Center is linked directly to the National Command Authorities of both the U.S. and Canada as well as to regional command centers overseas. When required, the Command Director must consult directly with the NORAD and U.S. Space Command CINC for time-critical assessments of missile, air, and space events; he takes action to ensure the CINC's response and direction are properly conveyed and executed.
NORAD Battle Management Center
The NORAD Battle Management Center provides command and control for the air surveillance and air defense network for North America. For example, in 1994, they monitored over 700 "unknown" radar tracks entering North American airspace. Many of these were subsequently identified as friendly aircraft that had erred from flight plans or used improper procedures. Yet nearly 100 were identified as illegal drug-carrying aircraft that were subsequently prosecuted by the U.S. and Canadian Drug Enforcement Agencies.
Missile Warning Center
The Missile Warning Center uses a worldwide sensor and communications network to provide warning of missile attacks, either long- or short-range, launched against North America or our forces overseas. The Missile Warning Center is divided into "strategic" and "theater" sections. The strategic section focuses on information regarding missile launches anywhere on earth which are detected by the strategic missile warning system and which could be a potential threat to Canada or the U.S. The theater section focuses on short-range missile launches processed by a Theater Event System which monitors missile launches in areas or a theater of operations which could threaten U.S./allied forces, such as when Iraqi SCUD missiles threatened our troops in Operation Desert Storm. Cheyenne Mountain's capabilities to provide timely and accurate warning and cueing for defensive systems such as the Patriot missile batteries have improved considerably since Desert Storm and continue to improve as new computer and communications systems are added to the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center.
Space Control Center
The Space Control Center supports the space control missions of space surveillance and protection of our assets in space. This center was formed in March 1994 through the combination of the Space Surveillance Center and Space Defensive Operations Center. The Space Control Center's primary objective in performing the surveillance mission is to detect, track, identify, and catalog all man-made objects in space. The Center maintains a current computerized catalog of all orbiting space objects, charts objects, charts present position, plots future orbital paths, and forecasts times and general locations for significant objects re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. Since 1957, more than 24,000 space objects have been cataloged, many of which have since re-entered the atmosphere. Currently, there are about 8,000 on-orbit objects being tracked by the Space Control Center. The Center's protection mission is accomplished by compiling information on possible hostile threats which could directly or indirectly threaten U.S./allied space assets. This information is then analyzed to determine effects/impacts of these threats to our assets in space so that timely warning and countermeasure recommendations can be made. A good example of this mission is our constant protection of the space shuttle while in orbit, by providing collision avoidance information to NASA and the Russian Space Agency when American astronauts are onboard the Russian Space Station Mir.
Combined Intelligence Watch Center
The Combined Intelligence Watch Center serves as the nation's indications and warning center for worldwide threats from space, missile, and strategic air activity, as well as geopolitical unrest that could affect North America and U.S. forces/interests abroad. The center's personnel gather intelligence information to assist all the Cheyenne Mountain work centers in correlating and analyzing events to support NORAD and U.S. Space Command decision makers.
The Systems Center ensures continuity of operations throughout the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center by providing integrated communications and computer systems management for more than 100 computer systems and 600 communications circuits in support of NORAD and U.S. Space Command missile warning, space control and air defense missions. This center is also responsible for monitoring all environmental systems maintained within the Cheyenne Mountain complex, to include electrical power generation, water purity and air quality. Additionally, the Systems Center is responsible for the integration of communications and computer systems testing, operator and maintenance technician training, and maintenance of all Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center communications and computer systems.
Weather Support Unit
The Weather Support Unit, located on Peterson Air Force Base Colo., provides weather reports to the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center Command Director on a 24-hour-a-day basis. The Weather Support Unit performs continuous meteorological monitoring of terrestrial, geophysical, and solar (space) weather elements which could affect NORAD and U.S. Space Command units, their missions, and equipment.
Cheyenne Mountain Security and Reliability
The United States strategic warning system is completely secure to unauthorized interference. It is a self-contained warning system using stand-alone computers and dedicated communication circuits. In addition, cryptological (scrambling) devices are employed at both ends of every communication circuit. Contrary to Hollywoods depiction in the movies, the strategic warning system of the U.S. is completely secure.
Despite all the sophisticated satellites, sensors, computers and intelligence data, it is the highly trained and qualified personnel inside of Cheyenne Mountain who are responsible for its outstanding success in performing critical missions flawlessly. Crew training and coordination are constantly emphasized and practiced and have paid dividends in always providing correct assessments to our key decision-makers.
There are more than 1,100 military and civilian personnel working in the Mountain. Although Cheyenne Mountain would probably not survive a direct hit from todays accurate and high-yield nuclear weapons, it could survive lower yield nuclear and conventional weapons impact. It is also well protected against other actions such as sabotage and terrorism. It is self-sustaining, capable of providing its own power, water, air, and food for up to 800 people for 30 days.
The Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center comprises the largest and most complex command and control network in the world. The system uses satellites, microwave radio routes, and fiberoptic links to transmit and receive vital communications. The bulk of electronic information is transmitted by blast-hardened microwave antennas and underground coaxial cables. Most of this information is data sent from the worldwide space surveillance and warning network directly to computers inside the Mountain. Redundant and survivable communications hotlines connect the Command Center to the Pentagon, the White House, U.S. Strategic Command, Canadian Forces Headquarters in Ottawa, other aerospace defense system command posts, and major military centers around the world.
Cheyenne Mountain Operating Costs
There has been much debate over the last few years as to the cost of doing business in the Mountain. A Cheyenne Mountain Complex cost analysis was conducted by the Air Force Audit Agency in May 1995. The audit established the total annual operating cost for Cheyenne Mountain in 1994 at $152 million. Of this total, the mission costs accounted for about 80 percent, with only 20 percent being facility related.
In fact, there are some costs which are unique to Cheyenne Mountain operations. Two noncommissioned officers are required to tighten bolts which provide strength to the rock walls, and three noncommissioned officers maintain the blast door pneumatic valves. Heating is actually a negative cost since the Mountain is heated as a by-product of the heat generated by its computers. Also, since there are only two entrances to the Mountain, security requirements are minimal. The audit concluded that there are very few costs unique to the Mountain and that mission expenses drive the Mountain costs, not the location.
For the past 30-plus years, Cheyenne Mountain has sustained a constant vigil over the North American continent, guarding against attacks from land, sea, air, and space. The Mountain continues to evolve in an ever-changing environment effectively and efficiently, supporting not only critical national defense missions for the U.S. and Canada, but also space support and theater defense missions worldwide.
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