Major military powers like the United States, China, and Russia have a dual function in the current age: show their might with outward proof of their weaponry and manpower but also hide behind the veil of secrecy to collect intelligence and develop new technologies. The world is getting “smaller” in the modern era—at least as far as the public’s ability to observe worldwide events is concerned.
And so it seems like there is nowhere for military intelligence projects to hide anymore. Take Area 51, for example. The government may have only admitted its existence a few years ago. Still, millions of people around the world knew all about it long before that. And then there was that time Will Smith and Bill Pullman used it to fight aliens. But we digress…
Jokes aside, lots of “secret” military installations and army bases like that actually aren’t so secret. Governments may deny their existence or obfuscate reports about what goes on at those sites. And while there are certainly clandestine operations going on that we’ll never know about, satellite imagery from Google Maps and other new technologies makes it difficult to hide things outright. So, in this list, we’ll do a deep dive into ten of those not-so-secret military spots. The world wasn’t supposed to know too much about these “black sites,” but we do—and now you do, too.
10 Area 6
As we’ve already mentioned, Area 51 is the big name the world already knows about. But just a few miles northeast of that not-so-clandestine base in the Nevada desert is Area 6. And far fewer people know what’s going on there. The smaller base at Area 6 hosts a long, mysterious runway and several giant hangars. For years, the government has balked at reporters and journalists who have asked about the site. But the media caught a break when Area 6 was named in a 2008 government report on nuclear waste around nearby Yucca Mountain.
That 7,500-page report cryptically claimed Area 6 is an “aerial operations facility.” The official document went on to add more. “The purpose of this facility is to construct, operate, and test a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles,” government officials wrote of the small military site. “Tests include, but are not limited to, airframe modifications, sensor operation, and onboard computer development. A small, manned chase plane is used to track the unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Experts say that likely points to one thing: drone testing. But while we may now know about Area 6 and what (supposedly) goes on there, don’t count on too much more information coming to pass. The area is fenced off and heavily guarded, so no random drive through the Nevada desert is going to get you up close. And the airspace above Area 6 is restricted, too—so don’t go get any ideas about flying your own drone high above to snap some pictures. You’ll just have to be content to look down upon it from Google Maps like the rest of us.
9 South China Sea Installations
For years now, the Chinese government has been engaged in not-so-secretive base-building throughout the South China Sea. Most of the bases are located in the strategically placed Spratley Islands and Paracel Islands. When the islands alone weren’t enough, the government dredged up more land from the ocean—about 3,200 acres (1,295 hectares) of it. Then, they started building all kinds of military installations.
Some of the bases were meant to house radar units. Others were put up as missile launch sites. Still more were used as helicopter launch zones. Then, to make things even more confusing, the Chinese government publicly announced in 2016 that they were building a new underwater base more than 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) below the surface of the South China Sea. Was that announced base a decoy move? Was it done simply to distract from their other new installations in the hotly-contested area?
While the world may know about the existence of these bases, nobody has been allowed thus far to learn more. For one, any foreign aircraft that fly within miles of the newly built bases is ordered to leave the airspace immediately. Because of that, speculation has run wild about what the military installations might be for.
Some believe the incredibly isolated islands are merely being used to solidify China’s ownership over shipping and trading routes in the area. Others wonder if they are logistical sites built to maintain control over natural gas and oil rights in the open ocean. And still more people ponder if they have a more militaristic purpose. After all, missile launch sites and military aircraft testing pads certainly give that impression.
8 Kapustin Air Base
The United States isn’t the only country with an Area 51-style base. In Russia, their version of a not-so-secret desert air base is a rural Siberian outpost called Kapustin Yar. For one, there are plenty of alien conspiracies tied to Kapustin, just like Area 51.
Without a doubt, this has been helped by the fact that Laika—the first ever living thing to ever orbit the earth up in space, was launched from Kapustin Yar in 1957. But beyond that, former employees have long claimed that the base is where alien autopsies are dished out and secret alien aircraft are regularly tested. Anything in those claims sound familiar, Area 51 skeptics?
Normally, you wouldn’t think twice about some random rumors regarding a rural Russian base. After all, whatever the Russians probably think they know about Area 51 is laughable too. But the similarities with America’s desert testing outpost can’t be discarded. For one, the Russian government didn’t even acknowledge Kapustin really existed until 1983. American intelligence and reconnaissance imagery determined the base had been built several decades before.
Why so secretive, then? In addition, ground radar systems and satellite tracking have collectively shown the base is regularly used for both rocket launches and low-level nuclear weapons testing. Today, American intelligence operatives believe the majority of Kapustin is actually deep underground. Nobody is even quite sure how expansive the underground facility is compared to what can be seen from space.
Thus, at this point, two things are certain: first, the not-so-secret base definitely exists and is in current use, regardless of what the Russians may say. And second, there are more questions than answers available outside Russia at this point in time.
Never heard of Dulce before? You’re not alone. It’s not an outright American military base like many on this list. Instead, the bizarre and secretive outpost outside this tiny New Mexico town is thought to be a major hub of extraterrestrial study. The town has just about 2,700 people in it. It’s so small that the tiny settlement doesn’t even have a traffic light.
But for nearly five decades now, locals have been sounding the alarm on some really strange happenings occurring around the area. First, in 1979, a local business owner released information that he claimed were intercepted signals from alien communications systems. Then, over the next year, a retired state trooper started finding animal corpses around town. The unsettling remains had been mutilated in bizarre and unspeakable ways.
Through the 1980s, other supposed former employees of the Dulce alien center came forward. One ex-explosive engineer with a federal government security clearance alleged he’d help build the facility. After coming forward with the so-called receipts, he further claimed to have witnessed a “battle” between humans and alien beings. From there, the supposed alien sightings around town have increased exponentially.
To be fair, whether there are or are not UFOs in Dulce is beside the point for us here. What we do know, though, is that the U.S. government won’t say anything about their alleged activities there. Even though locals swear strange things have been happening around town for decades, the feds claim they don’t have a base, and there’s no secret government work being done. Uh-huh. Sure!
6 Dugway Proving Ground
Some people say Dugway Proving Ground is destined to be the “next” Area 51. Spanning more than 800,000 acres (243,800 hectares) out in one of the most rural parts of the Utah desert, Dugway is the size of Rhode Island. And yet few people have ever been allowed there. The land was first handed over to federal military interests back in 1942.
During World War II and for years afterward, Dugway was used to test and develop biological and chemical weapons. Now, officially, the Proving Ground has a stated use very similar to its original mission. It is meant to test chemical weapons and biological methods of warfare and “develop countermeasures against them.”
That story isn’t good enough for the skeptics among us, though. For one, both the U.S. Army Reserve and the National Guard use the Proving Ground as a training site. And the U.S. Air Force has long used its expansive area to run test flights and secretive aerial training too. So conspiracists have long wondered whether the area isn’t used for far more than just chemical weapons testing.
These rumors got so loud in recent years that in 2018, the federal government opened the doors to Dugway and allowed a selection of media members to tour the facility. Of course, that “reveal” was tightly controlled and highly contained—and the media got to see only what the feds wanted them to see. With so much open desert space and so little idea of how it’s being used, maybe it’s no wonder that skeptics believe there is far more going on there than what we’ve been told.
5 Mount Yamantau
Just like Kapustin Yar, there are far more secrets to Mount Yamantau than there are readily available answers. The base is buried deep in the deepest depths of Russia’s Ural Mountains. The U.S. government believes the base to be a top-secret Russian nuclear and long-range weapons base. They consider it to be roughly analogous to America’s Cheyenne Mountain NORAD facility.
Decades-old eyewitness testimony from locals throughout the 1990s offers some agreement with that theory. Apparently, the Yamantau base was first built back in the 1970s or 1980s under the rule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
That’s only half the story surrounding Mount Yamantau, though. The Russian government has acknowledged the facility’s existence in recent years. But they are being remarkably tight-lipped about what’s there. When asked, they first claimed it was merely a mining camp. Then, they asserted it’s a storage facility for food and other valuables should an apocalypse ever occur. Then, they added another statement on top of that one and claimed Mount Yamantau is a place where Russian political officials and government leaders can hide out during any future nuclear apocalypse.
Whether or not any of those claims is true, there’s another not-so-secret site right next door that is also attracting attention: the tiny town of Mezhgorye. That small outpost officially holds more than 17,000 people, according to Russia’s latest census. But it doesn’t exist on official Russian maps, and the city is totally locked down from outsiders.
Foreigners aren’t allowed to visit it or see the place for themselves. Instead, secretive military battalions reside there and carry out clandestine operations at nearby Yamantau. It’s as if Mezhgorye is a completely secret town, just like neighboring Yamantau is a secret military installation.
4 Pine Gap
Like many of the bases on this list, Pine Gap is one of the least secretive “secret” military bases in the world. This facility is set out in the middle of the Australian outback. There, miles away from anything resembling any kind of civilization, the Australians and their American friends have developed a joint military venture. The joint base was first used way back in the 1960s.
Today, it has an incredibly vague official name: Joint Defense Space Research Facility. As you might have guessed, it reportedly does work in the aerospace realm. And much like Area 51 and other American bases, Pine Gap finds its success in being located far out in the desert and far away from any potentially prying eyes who might want to learn more.
When it first spooled into heavy use, Pine Gap workers were reportedly tasked with tracking Soviet missiles and spy planes. These days, even with the Soviet threat dead and gone, Pine Gap is reportedly still churning right along. Defense experts and military insiders suggest intelligence workers there still monitor a host of spy satellites positioned around the globe.
In fact, the base is so secretive that even former Australian Prime Ministers aren’t told about what happens there. But at least one data reveal did shed some light on the site: In 2013, Edward Snowden’s infamous intelligence leak unearthed information that Pine Gap was used to order and guide drone strikes in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
3 Raven Rock (Site R)
Raven Rock Mountain Complex is one of the federal government’s worst-kept military secrets. The location, which is also known as Site R, is home to an underground bunker located far below the surface in rural southern Pennsylvania. The well-known secret base is supposedly there for when the nuclear apocalypse comes about.
If nuclear bombs start dropping, American military leaders are supposed to head to the base. There, they will theoretically be able to control the war effort from the safety of the below-ground site. Even as the ground above them is obliterated by nuclear explosions and the ensuing fallout, the story goes, military leaders can carry on just as normal deep within the earth.
What we do know about the facility is pretty impressive. It’s dug into the side of Raven Rock Mountain. It cuts half a mile into the mountain and then another half-mile down further into the earth. Inside is a power plant, a reservoir with clean drinking water, and multiple large “buildings” carved into the rock. Site R has its own police and fire departments. It’s got a cafeteria to serve more than 2,000 people too.
Basically, it’s a ready-made community meant for survivors of nuclear fallout. The facility is up and running even now, so clearly, there are a lot of people going in and out to make that happen. Whatever secrets they know, though, have mostly been kept among the workers. Whatever is really going on down there, one thing is for sure: we hope life up on top of the ground never gets so bad that people have to rush down in Raven Rock to survive.
2 Porton Down
We’ve picked on the Americans and Russians plenty in this list so far. What about a British military installation that everybody not-so-secretly knows about? As we jump across the pond, we find ourselves at the “Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.” Military experts know it better as Porton Down, though.
First formed more than a century ago, in 1916, Porton Down is where the British tested their first-ever chemical weapons. The site has evolved quite a bit since its primitive World War I beginnings, of course. But Porton Down is still a site that possesses considerable public interest well into the 21st century.
Today, military officials and research experts at Porton Down no longer study just chemical weapons. They also look into infectious disease research and experimentations with super-viruses. That means ebola, anthrax, deadly nerve agents, and plenty of other scary molecules and diseases are tracked there.
Officially, the British government likes to claim otherwise. Their public stance is that no research into chemical or biological weapons has been done at Porton Down since the middle of the 1950s. Civilians across the country have been skeptical of that claim for decades, though. And it’s clear Porton Down is still in operation, no matter what tasks it actually (or purportedly) carries out. Add this British site to the mix of non-clandestine “secret” locations of the world’s military-industrial complex!
The expansive deserts of the American southwest aren’t the only rural place where the United States likes to set up military research facilities. Far up in the north, in rural Alaska, the feds run a site called the High-Frequency Active Auroral Frequency Program. That’s a mouthful, though; the world instead knows the military outpost as HAARP.
For years, HAARP was a jointly-run military base overseen by the Air Force, the Navy, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, and the infamous Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. At the time it was most heavily used, HAARP was purportedly meant to study communication methods and potential ways to improve surveillance using ionosphere technology. That’s a fancy way of saying the site supposedly studies the earth’s atmosphere—and specifically its ions and free electrons—while trying to figure out how to transmit radio waves through it.
For years, conspiracists have—excuse the pun here—harped on HAARP. They claim the site is used to control the weather all around the world. Former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even once accused HAARP officials of purposely causing the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island of Haiti. Other conspiracies are similar.
HAARP supposedly controls floods and hurricanes, and its research is leading to mind-control technology. Some even claim that it can directly cause plane crashes and power outages at will. Officially, HAARP was shut down by the federal government back in 2014. Unofficially, skeptics believe the base is still in use and still wreaking havoc on unfortunate souls all over the globe.