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Discover the construction of the military pyramid that cost 30.000 billion dollars to protect the USA from Soviet missiles. An impressive remnant of Cold War defense

Written by Noel Budeguer
Published 17/06/2024 às 18:38
Construction - United States - USA - missiles - nuclear - nuclear
The United States built a pyramid to protect itself from the end of the world. It cost 30.000 million dollars and ran for six months

Explore the story of the construction of the US defensive pyramid that cost 30.000 billion dollars. Find out what a shield against intercontinental missiles was like in the Cold War

Strolling through North Dakota, we came across Nekoma. This is a population with a density of 31 people in 2020, made up 100% of white people and with an average age of over 50 years. It's not the most interesting tourist destination, but a few kilometers away we can come across a gigantic and strange construction, a pyramid in the middle of the field. It's the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, or SRMSC, a facility that looks futuristic but is actually a legacy of the Cold War.

Its purpose was to defend the United States from Soviet intercontinental missiles and it intercepted none, but it may be that its mere construction was such a powerful deterrent that the Soviet Union did not dare launch an attack on American soil. The other interpretation is that it was a failure of biblical proportions.

The Cold War and the construction of the SRMSC

During the Cold War, countries like the United States and those belonging to the Soviet Union allocated billions in construction that today seems disproportionate to us. It was a time when the fear of nuclear war was completely justified and when the armament and technology of both powers clearly developed. And this technology also included each nation's defenses. The SRMSC is a vestige of this defensive technology and a construct in which the United States has invested heavily.

Picture: Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp

The pyramid: heart and brain of the complex

The SRMSC is a military complex, which means it is made up of several buildings, with the pyramid being the heart and brain of the place. What we see is imposing, but it is really just a part of the structure, as below it is an intricate network of corridors and rooms where office work could be carried out, where the central computer and the energy source for the entire system were located. complex. Beyond the pyramid was a huge field filled with missile silos.

Concrete was used in its construction, but also more than 22.000 tons of iron and steel. The objective was for the installation to be a bastion, resistant to nuclear and electromagnetic attacks. The works began in the late 60s and the government invested 6.000 million dollars, which would be equivalent today to around 33.970 million.

MSR: cutting-edge radar in the construction of the complex

The most important point in the building was the radar. On the four faces of the pyramid (MSR), we can see phased radars. It was a brilliant contribution to radar technology because it allowed the radar to be focused in multiple directions very quickly and without having to move any antenna. It represented the pinnacle of North American technology at the time and its objective was to detect missiles at long range, before they entered American soil.

This radar had 20.000 antenna elements distributed equally between its faces and was controlled by a very powerful central computer built by Bell System, IBM and Lockheed. Together with the PAR system (other phased radars located about 40 kilometers from the MSR and also with a phased radar), the United States was capable of identifying any intercontinental missile launched by the Soviet Union. The computer was responsible for discriminating between warheads and other objects, providing interception trajectories, launching and guiding the missiles.

PAR: radar technology that lasts

We have already mentioned the PAR (perimeter acquisition radar complex), but it deserves more recognition because it is the only piece of the complex and the North American Safeguard system that is still in operation. Sixty years later, this Cold War technology remains useful, being a radar that can detect and track multiple basketball-sized targets at a distance of 3.218 kilometers.

The initial function was to scan in the direction of the North Pole and, if a threatening intercontinental missile was detected, calculate the preliminary trajectory, pass the data to the MSR and begin interception operations. It has a height of about 36 meters and is also capable of resisting the effects of nuclear explosions and electromagnetic pulses.

Complex with the MSR in the background and, in the foreground, the 30 Spartan and 16 Sprint silos. Image: Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp

A self-sufficient bunker

As we said, beneath the pyramid were many rooms that included offices, computer rooms and weapons arsenals. However, partially buried, there was also a fuel storage system, a heat sink, and a complete power plant that powered the entire facility. Naturally, there was a community center, a mess hall, officers' compounds, a chapel, a gymnasium, and recreational facilities.

The shield of the Apocalypse

The objective of the site was that the computer, by crossing data from all radars, could direct several missiles at the same time if multiple attacks occurred simultaneously. This type of shield for the country consisted of 30 Spartan LIM-49 anti-ballistic missiles and 70 shorter-range Sprint missiles. The Spartans could intercept Soviet nuclear missiles when they were still out of the atmosphere and all 30 were in the silos next to the MSR.

Of the Sprint missiles, 16 were in the MSR silo, but the remainder were distributed to remote launchers at distances of 15 to 32 kilometers to have a more effective defensive perimeter. The first resource was the Spartan missile, but if this failed to destroy the target, the ultra-high acceleration Sprint missiles came into action.

Six months of operation

So far, this complex is the authentic base of a James Bond villain. An expensive base, very expensive, but, well, the last line of defense against nuclear missiles is worth well over 30.000 billion dollars. On April 1, 1975, COI status (initial operational capacity) was achieved, with full capacity of 100 operational missiles reached on October 1 of the same year. After these billions and representing the culmination of defense research that spanned nearly two decades, on October 2, 1975, Congress voted to deactivate the system.

In other words, one day after the base reached full capacity, it was voted for total deactivation. This impressive construction lasted six months in service, which operated 7 days a week, 24 hours a day and which, according to simulations, had a system success rate of 99,5%. The PAR continued to be maintained.

Virtual tour of the complex

You can visit from home. Little by little, parts of the complex were sold, some transferred to private investors and another part sold to the Hutterite brothers, an ethnoreligious commune, but it is not expected that it will be put into operation, as the buildings and facilities will be reused for other things. It will cost money to clean everything (between four and six million), as it remains an abandoned base for decades in which water has corroded much of the internal structure.

I can't help but recommend that you visit the Coldwartourist gallery, which has impressive photographs of the place, but you can also take a beautiful virtual tour where, in full detail, they narrate the history of the place while we can see its current state.

The deterrent value of the SRMSC

In the end, this important element of the Safeguard system never saw actual combat, but it may be that, precisely because of the grandeur of its systems, it had enormous deterrent value.

Images | Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp

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Noel Budeguer

Of Argentine nationality, I am a news writer and specialist in the field. I cover topics such as science, oil, gas, technology, the automotive industry, renewable energy and all trends in the job market.

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