We’ve all heard of Area 51 but what about its equivalents around the world? Here are ten of the most intriguing, all but three of which are still in operation.
10. Station 13, South Africa (Closed)
In the grasslands outside Johannesburg, near the not-quite-rural Bapsfontein, Station 13 was—allegedly—operational from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. But there’s not a lot of info to go on. In fact, it all seems to come from one man: Greg Roberts.
In 1966, he says, he stumbled upon the base while looking for the Baker-Nunn satellite tracking station, where he was due for a job interview. Finding himself on a dirt road to a gate with a STRICTLY NO ADMITTANCE sign, a 4-meter-high trailer, and, 6-8 km away, a huge radio dish tucked out of view in a dip, he realized he’d found the Bapsfontein tracking station, or Station 13—about which he’d only heard rumors. Not being the sort to follow orders from signs, he let himself in and entered the trailer. There he was met by “a young man in US military uniform,” who, after Roberts explained, let him use the phone to call the staff at Baker-Nunn. Other uniformed men were there too, along with “racks of electronic equipment” for radio satellite tracking. It was clear from documents lying around that the station belonged to the United States Air Force, and was run by Pan American Airways as part of the Eastern Missile Test Range. It was also clear what satellites they were tracking—though, of course, when Roberts asked, the officer would neither confirm nor deny. Phone call made, he was on his way, with orders not to venture further down the road.
And that was that—until 1982. Eager to distance itself from apartheid, the US shut down its South African bases and sold off a load of equipment. Roberts himself missed the auction, what he heard from friends left him wondering what went on at Station 13. For one thing, there was equipment covering a frequency only ever (officially) used for the 1961-65 RANGER craft, which NASA crashed into the moon. Also, the dish he’d seen the top of was 26 meters across—like the one at Hartebeesthoek used for deep space tracking. “What was such a big dish used for, apart from lunar missions?” Roberts wonders, “Was it used for deep space missions?” Answers have not been forthcoming.
9. QinetiQ, United Kingdom
The Hampshire headquarters of defense contractor QinetiQ are, according to the British Earth and Aerial Mysteries Society (BEAMS), built on top of a UFO base. In the levels below it, they say, researchers are working on intergalactic defense and futuristic flight development. In their 109-page report, they call these hidden levels “deep underground military bases”, or D.U.M.B.
Unfortunately, there’s not much concrete evidence—but some of it does involve concrete. Calling to mind the Nazca Lines, the layout of the roads leading up to the entrance resembles a Grey with arms outstretched. BEAMS calls it a Grey/Reptilian Hybrid and identifies it with Australian cave paintings. Furthermore, part of the building looks just like a flying saucer.
Other evidence includes the tight security on site, reports from alleged personnel, witnesses, and remote viewings, as well as QinetiQ’s involvement in mining coupled with the strange rumbling noises heard in Farnborough over the past 15 years. When approached for comment by The Daily Express, a QinetiQ spokesman said they were looking through the “very detailed dossier and working on a response”. But that was eight years ago, and they’re still keeping schtum—as is the Ministry of Defence, which said they “do not comment on UFO matters”.
8. Site 7, USSR/Kazakhstan (Closed)
The Soviet Union’s Sary Shagan facility was, according to the CIA, a testing range for experimental weapons. Specifically, it was focused on missiles, such as warheads containing metal balls. But rumors also suggest it was developing weaponized lasers… which might explain the UFO sighting at the base’s Site 7—but that would be a stretch.
In 1973, again according to the CIA, a member of Site 7 personnel saw “an unidentified sharp (bright) green circular object or mass in the sky.” It was hovering just above cloud level, they said, or where the clouds would have been if the sky wasn’t clear. “Within 10 to 15 seconds …, the green circle widened and … several green concentric circles formed around [it].” There was no sound. And minutes later it was gone.
Site 7 was, officially, Sary Shagan’s “warhead checkout unit”, so UFO interest may not be that surprising—assuming it wasn’t a laser. Still, the combination of experimental weapons and unexplained lights bears striking resemblance to Area 51. Even the location and climate are similar, being right by a lake in a desert, with clear skies most of the year.
7. Port Wakefield Proof and Experimental Establishment, Australia
Port Wakefield is one of several large military facilities in Australia, a country heavily involved in nuclear testing. And while it’s not the largest (56 square kilometers compared to the Woomera Range’s 120,000), it is the most interesting. As the name suggests, it conducts experimental weapons testing and munitions proofing at the coast—specifically, “off a remote highway” near the northernmost tip of Gulf St Vincent, South Australia.
Officially, Port Wakefield serves the army, air force, and navy. But they’re testing some pretty weird weapons. Locals and passersby have reported strange bursts of light, flashing balls, and radio interference. One delivery driver said he loses contact with other drivers whenever approaching the site, adding: “There’s a lot that I don’t think people know about it.”
He may have been alluding to the Port Wakefield hitchhiker. Witnessed by numerous drivers, this spectral figure in air force clothes is said to haunt the highway to Adelaide. Sometimes he stands by the side of the road, other times right in the middle, forcing drivers to slam on the brakes. Whether or not he’s given a lift, though, he vanishes into thin air. One local businessman even claims to have followed him into the toilet at a gas station only to see him dissolve.
6. Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
Diego Garcia lies just south of the equator, more than 2,000 kilometers from Sri Lanka. It has a long history of exploitation by Europeans, including as a French leper colony and, as recently as the 60s under the British Queen’s ownership, as a plantation forcing children to work. Nowadays, though, with the natives removed, it’s a joint UK/US military base complete with a deep water port and a runway the space shuttle could land on.
Naturally, its isolation gives rise to rumors. Perhaps the most outlandish, purporting to be from a whistleblower, is that it sits atop a D.U.M.B., a deep underground military base, for “Black Navy” projects like the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. Also human cloning. The alleged whistleblower claims to have been cloned twice in the 1980s, and that his “alters” as he calls them were “infused with his soul extracts”. One of them was sent to Mars while the other stayed on Earth, running assassination and abduction missions for its masters.
Well, anything’s possible. More credible, though, is the report from Stephen Walker, a USAF pilot stationed there at the height of the “War on Terror”. One week in 2005, he said, personnel were told to stay away from the “large, red, dilapidated hangar at the northern end of the airfield,” because the Navy was “conducting sensitive operations”. But it seemed to be empty throughout. At one point, they were even told to stay inside and away from the windows. The flightline was cleared and the base locked down to “protect an incoming classified aircraft”. Everyone complied and listened for a landing—“tires touching pavement, … disc brake rotors, or … brakes being applied”—but there was nothing, no sound whatsoever. As Walker put it, “there’s no quiet like the silence of a shutdown airfield on an atoll more than 2,000 miles away from the nearest sign of civilization.” He never found out what it was.
5. Orford Ness, United Kingdom (Closed)
Orford Ness on the coast of Suffolk, 160 km north-east of London, was once a major nuclear weapons lab. Nowadays, it’s a National Trust nature reserve—a protected marshland ecosystem amid the ruins of the base, giving a glimpse of Area 51’s ultimate future. When it was in operation, Orford Ness was home to a massive centrifuge for testing warhead casings, a hangar for captured Axis planes, and the enormous Cobra Mist over-the-horizon radar system. Although it’s not well known, it was just as important in WWII as the code-breaking Bletchley Park.
It was set up in 1913, ten years after the first manned flight, to research aircraft for warfare—all in top secret. And it stayed in operation for the next six decades, opening the Atomic Weapons Laboratory during the Cold War. Interestingly, given the other UK entry on this list, Orford Ness was part of a network that included a site in Farnborough. It’s also a short walk from Rendlesham Forest, the site of Britain’s most infamous UFO sightings.
As in comparable facilities nowadays, research was compartmentalized. Scientists worked on one small piece of a larger weapon without knowing about all the others or even if the finished thing worked. Among the technologies they developed are night-flying instruments, means for taking off and landing on ships, the 5,400 kg ‘earthquake bomb’ (nicknamed “Tallboy”), and Britain’s first nuke, “Blue Danube”. But much remains secret today, and access to the site is still limited.
4. Znamensk, Russia
Better known by its original name Kasputin Yar, Znamensk was established in 1946 (just after the Second World War) and may be the longest running experimental weapons site on the planet. Like Area 51 and several others on this list, it’s situated in the desert—specifically, east of Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) in southern Russia.
Technologies developed here include ballistic missiles, orbital rockets, sounding rockets, and nukes. This is also where Laika the dog was launched into space from. Today, in addition to weapons testing and aerospace research, it’s the largest military training center in Russia. So it’s not quite as secretive as its equivalent in Nevada. But, like the United States, Russia rounded up all the Nazi scientists they could—and it was at Kasputin Yar they were put to work.
In 1953, the British photographed the base from a modified Canberra bomber, managing to land in Iran despite drawing fire from the Soviets. But the photos were blurry and useless. Later, with the help of Turkish radar engineers along the Black Sea border with Russia, the US constructed a massive antenna—as long as a football field—to observe the skies above the base. And what they saw was the development and testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2,500 nautical miles.
3. Mount Yamantau, Russia
Known as “Russia’s Mount Everest”, Mount Yamantau in the Ural Mountains is said to host an underground base. And the government doesn’t deny it. In fact, the peak is officially designated a strategic site and, from what Putin has said in recent years about protecting nuclear command and control infrastructure from any threat, it seems an obvious location for the underground base he alludes to.
But it’s bigger than you’re probably thinking—at least according to rumor. Entombed under 3,000 feet of quartz, it’s said to be “as big as the Washington area inside the Beltway”, more than 1,000 square kilometers. That the quartz interferes with radio signals may be part of the point. Also for this reason, the complex is thought to be a bunker to keep top brass alive in the event of a nuclear war—similar to the United States’ Raven Rock Mountain Complex.
But its true purpose is shrouded in secrecy. Some say the nearby town of Mezhgorye, with its population of 17,000, is inhabited solely by Yamantau scientists all working on top-secret projects.
2. Lop Nur, China
In China it’s easy to keep things secret, at least from the people. Deep in the desert, hundreds of miles from any city in one of the most barren places in the entire country—the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang—lies the site of Lop Nur. And not only is it still operational but, as recently as 2021, it appeared to be undergoing expansion. Satellite imagery from the time showed that around 12 new concrete buildings had sprung up around the isolated, three-mile runway.
Given the size of the landing strip, which only appeared in 2016, Lop Nur is assumed to be involved in testing the classified “space plane” and other off-world technologies. The construction of new buildings there may suggest a more permanent military presence, or it could just be housing for scientists. Either way, though, Lop Nur appears to be gearing up for more highly classified testing. In fact, the already massive runway may be expanding too—into an equilateral triangle allowing take-offs and landings in three directions.
There’s not much else to say about this one, but it’s location, activities, and secrecy (with diplomats refusing to comment on it) make Lop Nur a direct Chinese equivalent to Area 51.
1. Kongka La, India
Kongka La, or Kongka Pass, is a high mountain pass in the Himalayas near Ladakh. And it’s “a hotbed for unusual activities”: unexplained lights, equipment failures, flying saucers, etc. It’s also disputed territory, with the Chinese and Indian governments both insisting it’s theirs—sometimes violently, as in the 1950s and 60s. Civilians aren’t allowed there at all.
The case for there being an Area 51 in the region comes from Google Earth imagery, which, allegedly, once showed military buildings. If there is a base, though, it’s thought to be deep underground, taking advantage of Kongka La’s unique geology—the Earth’s crust here being deeper than anywhere else. Hence other pictures from Google purport to show “unidentified caves” that disappear and reappear sporadically.
Other reports come from ground level. For instance, there’s the team of geologists, who in 2004 saw “a robot-like creature, 4 feet tall and strolling on the mountain crest,” before it fled in response to their approach. The Indian military has also, apparently, seen strange goings-on—including, in 2012, a ribbon- or cloth-like object drifting in the sky” that couldn’t be detected on radar.