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Vastrap Test Range Airfield
Airport typeMilitary
(AFB Bloemspruit)
LocationVastrap Weapons Range
Elevation AMSL3,234 ft / 986 m
Coordinates27°50′5″S 21°37′50″E / 27.83472°S 21.63056°E / -27.83472; 21.63056Coordinates: 27°50′5″S 21°37′50″E / 27.83472°S 21.63056°E / -27.83472; 21.63056
Direction Length Surface
ft m
18/36 5,249 1,600 Asphalt

Vastrap (Stand firm) is a small military airfield situated in the Kalahari Desert north east of Upington inside a 700 square kilometre weapons test range of the same name[1] belonging to the South African National Defence Force. It was constructed to allow the SAAF to practice tactical bombing operations, and for aircraft to service the SADF's defunct underground nuclear weapon test site.

Atomic testing[edit]

The area was selected for nuclear weapons testing due to its remoteness, low population density, stable geological formations and lack of underground rivers.[2]

Two underground shafts 385 metres (1,263 ft) and 216 metres (709 ft) in depth and 1 metre (3.3 ft) in diameter were drilled from 1975-1977.[3] Neither was ever used to perform a detonation, although instrumented tests were performed. The shafts were sealed with sand and concrete under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency in July 1993.[4]


The site was first detected by the Soviet spy satellite, Cosmos 922 when it photographed the area from 21–25 July 1977, and reported to the Americans on 6 August, who in turn confirmed its existence with an overflight of the Lockheed SR-71 spy plane.[5] The US then applied pressure on the South Africans for it to be closed;[6] France also insisted on closure, threatening cancellation of the Koeberg nuclear power station contract.[7]

David Albright reported that South African officials believed that an attempt to re-use the site in the late 1980s was detected by Western or Soviet intelligence agencies, and that this discovery influenced the Tripartite Accord.[8] In an effort to mask activities, a shed was built over one of the shafts, and the water that was pumped out in preparation for a test was hauled away.


The airfield is operated by AFB Bloemspruit.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Discussing the Detonation Effects of Large Charges" (PDF). South African Navy. August 9, 2006. p. 2.
  2. ^ Jan Van Loggerenberg, Richardt Van Der Walt (2005). Armament and Disarmament: South Africa's Nuclear Experience. iUniverse. ISBN 0-595-35665-6.
  3. ^ David Albright (July–August 1994). "South Africa and the Affordable Bomb". 50. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: 37–47. External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ "Tracking South Africa" (PDF). Carnegie Endowment. 2007-07-24.
  5. ^ U.S. Military Involvement in Southern Africa. South End Press. 1978. ISBN 0-89608-041-2.
  6. ^ du Preez, Max (2004). Of Warriors, Lovers, and Prophets: Unusual Stories from South Africa's Past. New Holland Publishers. ISBN 1-86872-901-X.
  7. ^ From Defence to Development: Redirecting Military Resources in South Africa. International Development Research Centre. 1998. p. 1921. ISBN 0-88936-853-8.
  8. ^ David Albright (July 1994). "South Africa and the Affordable Bomb". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. p. 44.

External links[edit]