All military installations are secure by default, at least unless someone is sleeping on guard duty. However, there’s a handful of truly elite locations that other military sites want to be when they grow up. Really, the only reason these hyper-secure, magnificently protected sites aren’t full-on supervillain lairs is that they were paid by someone’s tax dollars, and their commanders presumably don’t spend their days stroking a white cat and cackling maniacally. Come, let’s take a look at some of the world’s most secure military installations.
Muskö naval base is a massive secret base cavern roughly 25 miles from Stockholm, Sweden. It’s roughly the size of the city’s Old Town and sturdy enough to withstand a nuke. The giant facility was finished in 1969 and used to serve as the Swedish Navy’s headquarters, but as the Cold War ended and military budgets didn’t allow for super-sized supervillain lairs anymore, Muskö was abandoned and left largely to its own devices around 1990, though a small military presence remained to shoot warning shots at spelunkers trying to explore the base. The adjacent shipyard was sold to a German company.
However, in the 2010s Sweden suddenly decided to invest more heavily in defense, in no small part because of a possible Russian submarine sighting in its waters in 2014 (and the annexation of Crimea that very same year). The navy started to look longingly at its precious underground naval headquarters, and after some heavy-handed business moves by the defence company Saab — and an even more heavy-handed dawn raid on the German company’s shipyards to “rescue military secrets” — they managed to reacquire the Muskö shipyards. In 2019, the naval base was finally reopened, and the Swedish military is currently updating its old facilities and systems. It is estimated that Muskö should be back at its full, top secret glory and operational capacity by 2021 or 2022.
8. Raven Rock
Imagine how secure would a military facility have to be if its sole function was to house the Defense Department bigshots in a situation when the Pentagon wasn’t safe anymore. Actually, you don’t need to imagine — you just need to take a look at Raven Rock in Fairfield, Pennsylvania.
A true relic of the Cold War, the hyper-secure base was “blasted out of solid greenstone” in the early 1950s and built to be completely self-sufficient should the need arise. There’s a power plant, two water reservoirs, plenty of food and even a well-equipped bar. The massive underground tunnels inside Raven Rock are so big that they house several three-storey buildings, which in turn are prepared to house a large number of Department of Defense bigwigs. While the ultra-secure installation is reportedly still fully staffed and operational, it hasn’t ever seen proper emergency use … well, except for that one time when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was evacuated there during 9/11.
7. Yulin Naval Base
Hainan Island is the Southernmost part of China, and at its South shore lies one of the most important and fortified naval bases on planet Earth. It’s called Yulin naval base, and China has been methodically building its “sprawling complex” since 2000 in order to exert its power as the most important military location in the South China Sea.
And what a military location it is. Hidden underground facilities that house and service untold numbers of submarines? Check. Numerous defense assets and both geological and man-made fortifications? Check. Anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile platforms? Yep. A nuclear deterrent in the form of the aforementioned submarines. But of course. China’s naval military power is in full flight at Yulin, and while the defenses of the base itself could technically be penetrated by a sufficiently equipped fighting force (provided everyone’s polite enough to keep nukes out of play), it’s just the beginning of the attacker’s problems. The entire island of Hainan is extremely secure and there’s a “heavy military presence” within Yulin’s reach should the need arise — both traditional forces such as aircrafts from various air bases, and more exotic fare such as “electronic warfare assets.”
6. Eareckson station
Eareckson air station is an incredibly remote military installation, literally as far on the American frontier that if you go any more westward you’ll end up in Russia. Located 1,455 miles west of Alaska’s Anchorage, on the nondescript Shemya island in the Aleutian island chain, Eareckson station’s main function is to host Cobra Dane, the awesomely named giant radar that looks like something out of Star Wars … and is America’s first line of defense in case certain countries start getting rowdy.
Cobra Dane has been operational since 1976, permanently faces the west (a.k.a. Russia), and is so massive that it can be seen from space. It’s also the reason the island is so secure: Cobra Dane is so immensely powerful that it constantly watches 2,000 miles into Russia, and is capable of monitoring up to 120 satellite or missile launches at once. While this means it literally can’t be surprised, it’s just the beginning of the radar’s powers: Cobra Dane is also responsible for the tracking data to Ground Midcourse Defense anti-ballistic missile system (the thing the U.S. uses to shoot down bogeys in case someone tries to target mainland USA with, you guessed it, ballistic missiles). Oh, and it can also see over 28,000 miles in space, and handily keeps track of up to 12,000 pieces of space junk at once, in case one of them is hazardous to space flights.
5. Olavsvern naval base
Olavsvern is very much your average top secret Cold War arctic military lair, only this time in Norway. Close your eyes and you can imagine the whole thing: a $500 million price tag, underground facilities, hidden, ultra-secure, bomb-proof, took three decades to build, is seemingly just waiting for Roger Moore-era James Bond to sneak in and start delivering witty one-liners. However, the facility also demonstrates extremely well what can happen to even the most secret and secure of military installations when politicians decide to start meddling.
In 2008, Norway was in the middle of “restructuring” its navy, and the Parliament opted to close Olavsvern down in a particularly strange way: They put it on sale on Norway’s equivalent of Ebay, labeling it as “a unique property where ideas can be realized.” The “unique property” was eventually sold for a measly $5 million … and the next thing everyone knew, Olavsvern was full of Russian research vessels. The new owners happily rented Norway’s top Cold War crib to Russians, who you might recognize as the guys on the other side of the Cold War than Norway was. In other words, Norway had just sold their only base facing the Barents sea, leaving Russia the only sea power in that particular area. Whoops.
4. Olenya Bay
Olenya Bay is home to Russia’s 29th Special Submarine Squadron, which is essentially thought to be a fleet of nuclear-powered spy submarines. The top secret base is located on a remote coast of the Barents sea, and its security has a lot to do with its sheer secretive nature (you know, apart from the presumably rather heavy military presence).
The Olenya Bay base is believed to be quite significant because in 2017 and 2018, it emerged that NATO thinks its submarine fleet has been operating worryingly close to a number of underwater cables that are “vital for global data communication”. This is all the more worrying because at least one of the base’s vessels, “Yantar,” is a mothership that can deploy small submarines that can tap these cables for information — or even cut them should the need arise. Reportedly, Russia’s ability to do this can potentially put any of the world’s 213 subsea data cables at risk, which is a huge deal: Apart from all the cat pictures and social media that the internet runs on, these cables also carry financial transactions and global communication to a point that the world’s satellites can’t even hope to match should the cables be damaged.
3. The Utah data center
The Utah army national guard base hides a secret: It’s also home to the Utah data center, a vast data repository owned and operated by none other than the NSA. The massive center’s codename is “Bumblehive,” and it is protected both by the surrounding desert, some extremely unwelcoming signs, and should both fail to deter you, the significant military hardware of the surrounding base.
The center’s secretive nature and the NSA’s less than exemplary reputation when it comes to eavesdropping people have made the facility something of a bogeyman — the Atlantic calls it “a monument to the anxieties of big data and mass surveillance, a black box just out of reach and far beyond comprehension.” It’s no wonder, either, as William Finney, a former NSA worker turned whistleblower, estimates that the facility’s computers are capable of storing roughly the same amount of data as the entire Library of Congress holds … every single minute.
2. Fort Detrick research institute of infectious diseases
The U.S. Army medical research institute of infectious diseases at Fort Detrick is where the military’s Biological Defense Research program largely took place. In 2019, the highly secure biodefense laboratory temporarily fell to the one thing that could take it down: Sloppiness. Fortunately, this didn’t result in some infernal virus escaping and causing a pandemic. An inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) simply found “several areas of concern” in the way the place handled its decontamination processes and trained its employees, and shut the facilities down until further notice.
Apart from such hiccups, though, the Fort Detrick facility is a highly secure place that started its existence in 1943 as the base of the U.S. offensive biological weapons program, and in 1969 it moved on toward biodefense research. Today, it is home to several super-secure laboratories that house things like anthrax, ebola and assorted toxins and pathogens.
1. Mount Yamantau
We’ve told you before about Mezhgorye, a forbidden Russian city by the Ural mountains. In all likelihood, Mount Yamantau is the reason that settlement is so secret. No one outside the upper echelons of Russian government and military (and possibly the more-informed parts of the global intelligence community) is quite certain just what Mount Yamantau is, except for two things: It’s underground, and it’s absolutely gigantic. Reports indicate that the complex has been a work in progress since Leonid Brezhnev was in charge, and tens of thousands of people have been involved in its construction. Some say it covers an area of an estimated 400 square miles.
And… that’s it, really. That’s what we know. Oh, there are bits and pieces of information — for instance, the facility is reportedly served by its own highway and railway connections, and Russia’s Defense Ministry may even have been keeping the country’s Parliament in the dark about the details of the project. Then again, most sources agree that the facility is far from operational, and there’s no concrete proof of its existence, let alone purpose. Maybe the project was aborted ages ago. Maybe it’s a nuclear shelter thing. Maybe they’re building a labyrinth to house the minotaur. Chances are the Russian military isn’t in a rush to tell the world.