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“If we do not get a serious and sustained effort on counterdrug operations in my view we will fail to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

Cheyenne closing

The Air Force, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Northern Command are planning to shut down the huge underground command bunker at Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., where U.S. nuclear war operations would be held and space and missile tracking is done.

A defense official said Congress is being misled about the supposed cost savings for moving the mountain’s functions to other less-protected bases.

“The real cost will be billions of dollars, and we will lose the cornerstone of the U.S. nuclear command and control facilities,” said the official, who opposes the move.

Instead of placing command and tracking posts in the hardened, survivable Cheyenne Mountain, “we are going to base the deterrence for North America out of an office building.”

The official said that it took years to build the current team of U.S. and Canadian military officials at Cheyenne Mountain into “the most integrated, technologically fused, state of the art system in the world.”

“It is probably the Eighth Wonder of the World, but in six months it will be ripped asunder and nothing will be left,” the official said. “This country will be at a risk level rarely ever seen. But it’s like safety: Until something blows up, no one notices and everyone’s happy. Then you hear ‘how did this happen?’ ”

The official said an honest cost-benefit analysis was never done on closing the mountain and moving more than 250 North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command specialists to nearby Peterson Air Force Base.

The command center will be moved to a building at Peterson that is under the flight path of all commercial aircraft traffic at Colorado Springs airport and easily within target range of a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile. The same building experienced two power failures last summer that “brought Northcom to its knees” while the command center at Cheyenne Mountain continued operating under generator power, the official said.

To move the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, the Space Control Center and the Missile Warning Center will cost $1.2 billion. To avoid drawing the attention of Congress, military leaders devised a plan to keep the mountain “open” but in reality “remote” all their systems to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado and Peterson.

“There will be no cost savings for anyone; in fact this entire process will end up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars to move and then millions a year to keep up systems both in Cheyenne Mountain and at the remote facilities in three separate sites,” the official said.

A spokesman for Northern Command said Cheyenne Mountain will be placed in a standby mode over the next two years as its functions are moved.

“While the cost and security analysis studies are still being conducted, moving Cheyenne Mountain to an alternate command center status makes the country safer,” the spokesman said. “The GAO has released a preliminary report on the realignment and confirmed that the decision to move functions from Cheyenne Mountain significantly increases operational effectiveness for command and control in the homeland.”

Outgoing Northern Command commander Adm. Tim Keating told reporters in a press briefing in Colorado yesterday that the Cheyenne Mountain transformation proposal is “a sound plan that will save us money.”

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