Construction of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex

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Aerial view of Cheyenne Mountain excavation and construction area in 1963

Construction of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex began with the excavation of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado on May 18, 1961. It was made fully operational on February 6, 1967. It is a military installation and hardened nuclear bunker from which the North American Aerospace Defense Command was headquartered at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. The United States Air Force has had a presence at the complex since the beginning, the facility is now the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, which hosts other military units, including NORAD.

Initial planning[edit]

From the beginning of the Cold War, American defense experts and political leaders began planning and implementing a defensive air shield, which they believed was necessary to defend against a possible attack by long-range, manned Soviet bombers.[1]:4 The Air Defense Command was transferred to Colorado Springs'[2] Ent Air Force Base on January 8, 1951.[3][a] Starting September 1953, the base was the headquarters for the U.S. Army Anti-Aircraft Command.[4][b]

The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) was established and activated at the Ent Air Force Base on September 12, 1957. In the late 1950s, a plan was developed to construct a command and control center in a hardened facility as a Cold War defensive strategy against long-range Soviet bombers,[10] ballistic missiles, and a nuclear attack.[11][c]

Hardened bunkers were part of a national plan to ensure the continuation of the United States government in the event of nuclear attack. In the Washington, D.C. area alone, there are said to have been 96 hardened bunkers.[13] Other command bunkers built in the 1950s and early 1960s, include Raven Rock Mountain Complex (1953), Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center (1959) in Virginia, and Project Greek Island (Greenbrier).[14] The closest Russian counterpart to the facility is regarded to be Kosvinsky Mountain, finished in early 1996.[15]


Exterior construction, Cheyenne Mountain complex, 1961

The operations center was moved from an above-ground facility, vulnerable to attack, to the "granite shielded security" within Cheyenne Mountain during the Cold War.[16] In terms of telecommunications capabilities, American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) had begun placing its switching stations in hardened underground bunkers during the 1950s.[17]

The mountain was excavated under the supervision of the Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of the NORAD Combat Operations Center.[10] Excavation began for NORAD Command Operations Center (COC) in Cheyenne Mountain on May 18, 1961,[1]:18 by Utah Construction & Mining Company.[18]:iii, 5, 68 Clifton W. Livingston of the Colorado School of Mines was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to consult upon use of controlled blasting for smooth-wall blasting techniques.[18]:18[19]

The official ground breaking ceremony was held June 16, 1961 at the construction site of the new NORAD Combat Operations Center. Generals Lee (ADC) and Laurence S. Kuter (NORAD) simultaneously set off symbolic dynamite charges.[1]:18 On December 20, 1961, with excavation 53% complete there were 200 workers that walked off on what Cecil Welton, Utah Construction Company project manager, called a wildcat strike after a worker was fired for disobeying safety rules.[20] Workers returned three days later and the fired worker was returned to his position.[21]

Excavation was nearly complete in August 1962, but a geological fault in the ceiling of one of the intersections needed to be reinforced with a $2.7 million massive concrete dome.[1]:19 President John F. Kennedy visited NORAD at the Chidlaw Building on June 5, 1963 to obtain a briefing on the status of the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.[1]:19,36 Excavation was complete on May 1, 1964.[1]:19

On September 24, 1964, the Secretary of Defense approved the proposal for the underground Combat Operations Center construction and the Space Defense Center. The targeted date for turnover of the military-staffed facility to the Commander of NORAD was January 1, 1966.[1]:19


The architectural design was primarily created by Parsons Brinckerhoff Company.[22] Estimated cost of the combat operations center construction and equipment was $66 million.[1]:18[d] The complex was built in the mid-1960s.[16][23]

Continental Consolidated Construction was awarded a $6,969,000 contract on February 27, 1963 to build 11 buildings on giant springs, with a total of 170,000 square feet (16,000 m2).[24][25] Eight three-story buildings were built in the main chambers and three two-story buildings were constructed in the support area.[26] Grafe-Wallace, Inc. and J. M. Foster Co. received a joint contract in April 1964 for $7,212,033 contract for blast-control equipment and utilities installation, including the original six 956-kilowatt diesel powered generators.[26] Continental Consolidated also excavated water and fuel oil reservoirs within the interior of the Cheyenne Mountain facility. Continental Consolidated was paid an additional $106,000 for work on the reservoirs.[24][25]

Beginning in 1965, the NORAD Combat Operations Center was connected through several remote locations to the national telecommunications systems via Bell Laboratories' Close-in Automatic Route Restoral System (CARRS), a "Blast-resistant" communication system constructed hundreds of feet underneath solid granite. Having several remote locations, from 30 to 120 miles from the Cheyenne Mountain Complex, allowed for several different, automatically-rerouted pathways to relay data, teletype, and voice communications. The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) and Distant Early Warning Line (DEW) sites in North America, United Kingdom, and Greenland sent incoming information through the system to the Combat Operations Center.[27]

Systems installations[edit]

Burroughs Corporation developed a command and control system for NORAD's Combat Operations Center for the underground facility and the Federal Building in downtown Colorado Springs. The electronics and communications system centralized and automated the instantaneous (one-millionth of a second) evaluation of aerospace surveillance data.[28] The Air Defense Command's SPACETRACK Center and NORAD's Space Detection and Tracking System (SPADATS) Center merged to form the Space Defense Center. It was moved from Ent AFB to the newly completed Cheyenne Mountain Combat Operations Center and was activated on September 3, 1965.[1]:20 The Electronic Systems Division (ESD) turned the facility's Combat Operations Center over to NORAD on January 1, 1966.[29]:15 The Commander of NORAD transferred Combat Operations Center operations from Ent Air Force Base to Cheyenne Mountain and declared the 425L command and control system fully operational April 20, 1966.[e] The Space Defense Command's 1st Aerospace Control Squadron moved from Ent AFB to Cheyenne Mountain in April 1966.[31]

On May 20, 1966, the NORAD Attack Warning System became operational.[1]:20 The Combat Operations Command was fully operational on July 1, 1966.[29]:19 The $5 million Delta I computer system, one of the largest computer program systems of the Electronic Systems Division, became operational on October 28, 1966. With 53 different programs, it was a defense against space systems by detecting and warning of space threats, which involved recording and monitoring every detected space system.[29]:19 By January 4, 1967, the National Civil Defense Warning Center was in the bunker.[26] The Space Defense Center and the Combat Operations Center achieved Full Operational Capability on February 6, 1967. The total cost was $142.4 million or $1,075,017,676.65 in 2018 value.[1]:20[32]


  1. ^ The Air Defense Command (ADC) inherited 21 fighter squadrons from Continental Air Command (CONAD) and 37 Air National Guard (ANG) fighter squadrons assigned an M-Day air defense mission. It was also assigned four air defence divisions.[1]:13 General Benjamin W. Chidlaw was the base commander beginning July 29, 1951[4][5] and commander of the Air Defense Command from August 25, 1951 and until May 31, 1955.[6]
  2. ^ Information about potential hostile aircraft from radar sites around the country was forwarded to a regional clearinghouse, like Otis Air National Guard Base, and then to ADC headquarters at Ent Air Force Base.[7] It was then plotted on the world's largest Plexiglas board. Enemy bombers progress was tracked on the board using grease pencils. If there was a potential threat, interceptor aircraft were scrambled to the target. Because this process was cumbersome, it made a rapid response unattainable.[7] An automated command and control system, Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), based upon the Whirlwind II (AN/FSQ-7) computer was implemented to process ground radar and other sources for an immediate view of potential threats in the 1950s.[7] There was an operational plan for a SAGE implementation for Ent by March 7, 1955.[8] A modern 15,000 square feet (1,400 m2) concrete block Combat Operations Center (COC) became operational at the base on May 15, 1954.[1]:15[9]:261 Although the new facility was much improved over the previous center, General Partridge was not satisfied that it would survive a nuclear bomb.[9]:261 September 1 of that year, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) was activated as a joint command of the defense forces of the military branches at the Ent Air Force Base.[1]:15
  3. ^ The Gaither Report, for instance, called for development of ballistic missile programs, early warning systems, and other defensive strategies.[12]
  4. ^ The Headquarters NORAD Locations were: Ent Air Force Base, CO September 1957 – March 1963; Chidlaw Building, Colorado Springs, CO March 1963 – January 1988; Building 1470, Peterson Air Force Base, CO January 1988 – March 2003; Building 2, Peterson Air Force Base, CO March 2003 – October 2012; Eberhart-Findley Building, Peterson Air Force Base, CO (ex-Building 2) Beginning October 2012.[1]:36
  5. ^ On May 7, 1965 a Philco 212 Computer was installed[29] for the 425L Command/Control and Missile Warning system.[30]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "A Brief History of NORAD" (PDF). Office of History, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). December 31, 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 20, 2015. Retrieved February 11, 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ "Air Defense of the Continental United States: Lineage". F-106 Delta Dart - Air Defense Command. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  3. ^ "Biographies: Major General Uzal Girard Ent". United States Air Force. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  4. ^ a b "Ent becomes a permanent installation" (PDF). Colorado Springs, Colorado: The Gazette. January 2, 1955. p. B 3:3. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  5. ^ "General Benjamin Wiley Chidlaw". United States Air Force. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  6. ^ "Air Defense of the Continental United States: Commanders". F-106 Delta Dart - Air Defense Command. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c "Searching the Skies: The Legacy of the United States Cold War Radar Defense Program" (PDF). Air Combat Command, United States Air Force. June 1997. pp. 29–32. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
  8. ^ Redmond. From Whirlwind to MITRE: The R&D Story of the SAGE Air Defense Computer. MIT Press. p. 503. ISBN 978-0-262-26426-6.
  9. ^ a b Schaffel, Kenneth (1991). Emerging Shield: The Air Force and the Evolution of Continental Air Defense 1945-1960 (45MB pdf). General Histories (Report). Office of Air Force History. p. 261. ISBN 0-912799-60-9. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
  10. ^ a b "Cheyenne Mountain Complex". North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). April 26, 2013. Archived from the original on February 20, 2015. Retrieved February 20, 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. ^ Hunter Keeter (July 1, 2004). The U.S. Homeland Security Forces. World Almanac Library. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8368-5682-8.
  12. ^ Lori Lyn Bogle (2001). The Cold War: National security policy planning from Truman to Reagan and from Stalin to Gorbachev. Taylor & Francis. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-8153-3239-8.
  13. ^ Nigel West (January 26, 2007). Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence. Scarecrow Press. p. 63. ISBN 978-0-8108-6463-4.
  14. ^ Nigel West (January 26, 2007). Historical Dictionary of Cold War Counterintelligence. Scarecrow Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-0-8108-6463-4.
  15. ^ "Kosvinsky Mountain, Kos'vinskiy Kamen', Gora, MT 59°31'00"N 59°04'00"E". Global Security.
  16. ^ a b Joseph Angelo (October 31, 2013). Dictionary of Space Technology. Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-135-94402-5.
  17. ^ Henry D. Sokolski. Getting MAD: Nuclear Mutual Assured Destruction, Its Origins and Practice. DIANE Publishing. p. 180. ISBN 978-1-4289-1033-1.
  18. ^ a b Merwin H. Howes (1966). Methods and costs of constructing the underground facility of North American Air Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain, El Paso County, Colo. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Mines.
  19. ^ Ruth Reece King (1955). Bibliography of North American Geology, 1951. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 117.
  20. ^ "Miners Walk Off Defense Tunnel Job" (Google News Archive). The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. December 21, 1961. p. 1. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  21. ^ "Work Resumes On Defense Site: Mountain Excavation Halted by Strike". Reading Eagle. Reading, Pennsylvania. December 23, 2015.
  22. ^ Tom Vanderbilt (April 15, 2010). Survival City: Adventures among the Ruins of Atomic America. University of Chicago Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-226-84695-8.
  23. ^ "From NORAD to Parks: A Tale of the Cheyenne Mountain Project" (PDF). Colorado Open Lands. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
  24. ^ a b "B-159934, MAY 8, 1969, to Continental Consolidated Corporation" (Memorandum to Continental Consolidated Construction Company regarding requests for additional monies). U.S. Government Accountability Department. May 8, 1969. Retrieved January 29, 2013.
  25. ^ a b David F. Winkler, for the United States Air Force Air Combat Command (June 1997). "Searching the Skies: The Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense Radar Program". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved February 23, 2015.
  26. ^ a b c "America's Defense Tied to City in Mountain" (Google News Archive). The Lewiston Daily Sun. Lewiston, Maine. January 4, 1967. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  27. ^ "A Blast-Resistant Communications Network". Bell Laboratories Record. October 1965. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  28. ^ "Burroughs Corporation of Detroit to supply NORAD control system" (PDF). The Gazette. Colorado Springs, Colorado. July 28, 1961. p. 1:4. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015 – via Pikes Peak Public Library.
  29. ^ a b c d Del Papa, Dr. E. Michael; Warner, Mary P (October 1987). A Historical Chronology of the Electronic Systems Division 1947-1986 (PDF) (Report). Retrieved July 19, 2012.
  30. ^ "NORAD's Information Processing Improvement Program: Will It Enhance Mission Capability?" (Report to Congress). Comptroller General. September 21, 1978. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  31. ^ 1 Space Operations Squadron (AFSPC) (Report). Air Force Historical Research Agency. September 6, 2012. Archived from the original on May 13, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  32. ^ "Cheyenne Mountain Complex". NORAD. Retrieved February 19, 2015.

External links[edit]

Media related to Cheyenne Mountain Complex at Wikimedia Commons

External image
construction scaffolding