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Military and civil underground shelters.

Military and Civil Underground Shelters

Digging Deep to Extend Survivability

Recent events in Romania have revealed the manner in which the security police (Securitate) staged part of their final stand in deep shelters constructed beneath Communist Party headquarters. First reports indicate that these shelters were built on three levels, and incorporated an extensive closed-circuit television network, air and water purification plants and impressive protection against blast and radiation.

Tunnel warfare is by no means new, nor at its lowest level does it require such a degree of sophistication as was evident in Romania. In 1966 the US Army encountered fierce resistance based on a tunnel complex in South Vietnam's Chu Chi district. The complex ranged from basic earth trenches to multi-level tunnels constructed of steel and concrete and had individual trench systems capable of protecting an entire Vietcong battalion against most air and artillery strikes. The US Army never entirely defeated the tunnel threat, and although B-52 bombing raids damaged it severely, the Chu Chi complex was later to play a pivotal role in the support of the Tet offensive. It was relatively sophisticated at its heart, but was in essence a primitive system, well suited to a guerilla warfare which made fearful physical and mental demands on its occupants.

The extent of the tunnel system beneath the Bucharest streets is said to have come as something of a surprise, even to those who had long suspected the existence of a subterranean headquarters complex. It is certain that other countries - even those which do not have repressive regimes - have also made comprehensive arrangements to withdraw elements of their government to underground facilities in the event of both war and civil disorder. Occasionally, as when UK anti-nuclear protesters exposed the locations of Regional Seats of Government which would assume responsibility for the conduct of the nation's affairs in the event of the destruction of the National Seat of Government, the location of underground facilities becomes a matter of public knowledge. However for the most part their locations remain closely guarded secrets.

There are several reasons for such excellent security. One leading contractor in the field of governmental command and control systems believes that it is because in many countries the civil government and the military are to some extent <<compartmentalised>> and are free to construct their own secure facilities. Another reason may be the fact that when <<bunker>> type facilities are built into government offices during the early stages of their construction, they attractr little attention. Once constructed they can be progressively extended <<from within>> without outsiders becoming aware of what is taking place. Indeed recent advances in <<microtunnelling>> make it possible to install new mains services without attracting undue attention. It is also a fact that the public at large has a relatively short memory and very often the precise location of some types of facility - particularly if, like an emergency HQ, it is normally unattended - will simply be forgotten with the passage of time.

The <<bunker>> or alternate headquarters is only one of a number of types of facility which can be constructed underground. In this article we shall consider: - Strategic Storage Dumps - Protected Sites for Equipment - Protected Headquarters - Communal Shelters.

Storage Sites

Probably the most frequently encountered examples of underground storage facility are those used as magazines for explosives and ammunition. However there are other types of strategically important materiel which may be stockpiled against a future crisis - not the least being minerals and hydrocarbon fuels. Reports suggest that both the United States and South Africa are among the countries that have well-developed underground storage facilities for their strategic fuel reserves, and visitors to last year's IDEA exhibition in Ankara were shown some of the capabilities of the West German company Kavernen Bau-und Betriebs- GmbH and its Salzgitter Consult associate in this field. As a consulting engineer Salzgitter Consult has expertise in assessing the practicability of a wide range of underground projects including underground depots and storage caverns, whilst KBB's experience embraces the development of storage systems for liquid, gaseous and liquified gas fuels ranging from buried tanks to lined and sealed galleries, salt and rock caverns, abandoned mines, and even to the use of certain types of porous geological formations.

A type of underground storage facility which may assume increasing importance in the future is the land-based disposal centre for low and intermediate level nuclear waste. Typically such a project will proceed from stage to stage over a fifty-year period with fresh caverns being constructed as others are filled, backfilled and sealed. The probability is that wastes associated with nuclear weapon manufacture will continue to be disposed of within the weapons production complexes. However, defence ministries which are already having to face the need to dispose of decommissioned nuclear submarines may have to consider the possibility of cutting up less contaminated sections and consigning them to some form of underground multi-containment system - i.e. typically in drums which are then placed in standard sized over-packs and stored in vaults which can be backfilled as they reach their storage limit. A number of configurations for such repositories are under consideration, and it is likely that these may require special security arrangements once construction gets under way.

Protected Sites For Equipment

Silo launch facilities for strategic missiles have been a feature of the East-West-strategic balance since the late 1950s. Although the US LGM30F/G Minuteman ICBM force is currently accomodated in a series of bunkers operated by the USAF Strategic Air Command at Ellsworth, FE Warren, Minot, Malstrom, Grand Forks and Whiteman AFBs, the present Administration's decision to deploy fifty LGM118A Peacekeeper ICBMs on railcars signified a withdrawal from the historical concept in the light of changing international circumstances.

The Minuteman silo systems were last updated ten years ago, but recent reports suggest that the Soviet Union was upgrading those which house the latest MOD 5 version of its SS-18 Satan (hard target) missile as recently as 1989.

Given the lessening of international tension it seems that the eventual fate of the US and Soviet missile silos will in all probability be determined by international agreement rather than their ability to withstand a first strike. However, there is still considerable interest in placing other kinds of strategic installations below ground. Coastal defence from static gun emplacements is something of a neglected art in many countries. The principal exceptions are to be found in Scandinavia, where Norway remains prominent in the field and currently operates no fewer than twenty-six fortresses and fifty coastal artillery batteries equipped with guns of up to 150 mm calibre. Likewise, despite Sweden's recent decision to form a mechanised battalion equipped with a coast defence version of the Hellfire missile, its navy still operates a number of 120 mm static guns. Thus it is not surprising to find that Norway is also in the forefront of those countries developing underground installations for other strategic assets.

One project currently attracting much attention in Norway is that of silo-based surveillance and warning radar system. It has its origins in a mid-1970 recommendation (the Thor Study) that the country should invest in six static radar installations to cover the approaches from the Soviet Union. The stations were to be built below ground level with retractable radar antennae that could be lowered into an underground chamber for maintenance or to avoid battle damage. Initially three such stations were constructed at high altitude, but although operational experience has been generally satisfactory it is only recently that technology has become available to enable the Thor Study concept of a combination of fixed and mobile sensors to be fully implemented - and even then the project has been plagued by software and budgetary problems. More recently work has begun on the construction of two additional stations. These are to house Hughes radar equipment together with hydraulic generators, power generation and supply equipment, fuel storage and crew accomodation. The estimated construction time is likely to be as much as five years at the least accessible sites.


The existence of underground headquarters has already been touched upon. However, the existence of such installations is not always a closely guarded secret. Indeed the fact that a nation is capable of maintaining command and control of its forces whilst under attack is often a fundamental part of its deterrent strategy.

Thus it is hardly surprising that installations like South Africa's Silvermines maritime command centre and the USAF's Cheyenne mountain complex have historically occupied an important place in the defence plans of their respective countries. Silvermines is in virtually every respect a covert installation, but when South Africa was energetically pressing for international support because of its role in protecting the Cape Sea Route, it was frequently mentioned as the type of inherently safe, secure and highly capable headquarters from which the West could control activity on the sea link.

Cheyenne is a unit of USAF Space Command's 3rd Space Support Wing, and employs around 1400 persons within an underground area said to be in the region of four acres. It has frequently been the subject of controversy as its critics have asserted that its technology has been overtaken by that of the potential enemy. It is not the purpose of this article to consider the various highly complex surveillance and command and control systems appropriate to underground headquarters, but there is no doubt that the provision of the life-support technology required to sustain their operation has become a highly specialised business.


The need for complexes like Cheyenne to provide protection against the effects of nuclear attack is self-evident. Despite moves to limit the use of nuclear weapons, the risk of their proliferation remains, and therefore it is likely that many nations will continue to perceive themselves to be at risk.

The risks associated with nuclear attack extend beyond the initial detonation leading to contamination. Recent experience in the Iran-Iraq war has also tended to increase awareness of the need for shelters capable of providing a secure operational headquarters in the aftermath of chemical and/or biological attack.

The same war has provided ample proof of the manner in which missiles with conventional warheads have proliferated. The expectation is that there will be an increase in the number of nations capable of carrying out a precision missile attack on a headquarters with weapons specifically developed to penetrate hard targets. These might be either intermediate range missiles or air-launched stand-off weapons. Thus there must now be considerable concern to ensure that equipment, like blast valves, developed primarily to function in the long-lasting, relatively low pressure environment of a nuclear explosion can perform as effectively when confronted by the short-duration high pressure effects of a conventional explosive.

The Swiss-based concern Luwa AG has been prominent in the development of valves to protect ventilation systems against such severe effects and has supplied its Type F explosion protection valve to users in Switzerland, NATO (including the UK), Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea for protection against a variety of threats ranging from conventional explosion to high-level nuclear attack. Typically such valves will be required to protect personnel and equipment by reacting and closing within one microsecond.

Likewise Luwa has developed a standard range of steel-framed, steel and concrete interleaved doors - and equally important, frames and hinges - capable of withstanding both the overpressure and underpressure associated with repeated blast effects, and providing an extremely high level of protection against heat and fire as well as NBC risks.

Companies like Luwa and another Swiss shelter specialist Andair have been encouraged in their development of such equipment and of other items like activated carbon-based particulate filters by the authorities' insistence on high levels of readiness in civil defence. This extends to the provision of extensive shelter facilities for the civil population - the largest Swiss shelter has accommodation for up to 17,800 persons. Numerous Alpine and other road tunnels are designed as air-raid shelters. The vast underground complex of the Alpine redoubt is another example of Swiss skill at burrowing underground. At the levels of occupancy mentioned above the shelter is required to offer the wide range of facilities necessary to sustain an entire community, often beyond the immediate aftermath of an attack, which by Swiss standards would last for two or three weeks, until the infrastructure can be reestablished. Thus the technology has progressed well beyond the point of being able to provide adequate protection against attack and such basic services as light, heat, air-conditioning, catering and fresh water. Prolonged occupancy, creates, for example, a demand for equipment for ion replenishment (to prevent drowsiness), odour reduction and the simulation of the day-night cycle.

It is such technology that is likely to be increasingly important to the military community. Although it is difficult to envisage it wanting to shelter such large numbers for so long, headquarters staffs and personnel charged with the operation of sophisticated, communications, sensor and command and control systems are required to operate at high levels of efficiency. The Vietcong proved conclusively at Chu Chi that it is possible to operate from a primitive underground base for prolonged periods, but not even their critics would doubt the intensity of their motivation. A shelter environment is characterised by high stress levels which not only demand attention to physical protection - to provide a sense of security - ergonomics and the working environment. Something more than a <<survivor mentality>> is required, and confidence in life support systems may provide a starting point for its development.

PHOTO : A close look at this sketch by Luwa helps one to realize the complexity of the design of

PHOTO : an "underground village".

PHOTO : Three weeks under metres of earth means that one has to be able to cope with such

PHOTO : emergencies as an appendicitis. This surgery ward was designed by Luwa.

PHOTO : A sight that is common to all basements of recent office and apartment blocks, schools and

PHOTO : villas in Switzerland.

PHOTO : Andair specialises in, amongst other this, blast-proof doors and valves, such as are

PHOTO : illustrated on this picture.

PHOTO : A large underground complex like a command post requires a powerful air supply and

PHOTO : filtering system. This plant was designed and built by Andair.

PHOTO : Temet Oy of Finland also specialises in underground shelters. This is the main entrance to

PHOTO : one of its S6 shelters.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:military uses
Author:Reed, John (American senator)
Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Previous Article:Special forces communications requirements; a look at some of the specialised equipment available.
Next Article:Possible applications of neurocomputing in defense.

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