You can walk to this (abandoned) military base in North Dakota

This North Dakota military base once faced big plans for the future, but now sits at the end of an easy hike in North Dakota.

If you want to see the post-apocalyptic ruins of a Cold War superpower, head to post-Soviet countries. Abandoned and long-declining Soviet industry and military installations litter the former USSR. If you have the chance, visiting the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant is a must.

But America is not without its own abandoned military bases – decaying monuments of a bygone era (hopefully never to return). The Stanley R. Mickelsen Backup Complex (SRMSC) is more than an abandoned military complex such as one finds in the USSR, it is also a monument to the monumental waste of public money.


The Stanley R. Mickelsen Backup Complex and its intended role

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Backup Complex was a group of military installations in North Dakota. It was built to support the Army’s anti-ballistic missile program. It was built for the private launch and control of 30 LIM-49 Spartan anti-ballistic missiles and another 70 shorter-range Sprint anti-ballistic missiles.

  • Hosted: 30x Spartan LIM-49 anti-ballistic missiles and 70x Sprint anti-ballistic missiles
  • Type: ICBM air defense

Under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, America was allowed to have a single ABM system protecting an area with ICBM launchers (only 100 launchers and 100 missiles were allowed). SRMSC was the only such facility in the United States.


The complex was designed to protect Grand Forks Air Force Base’s Minuteman missile ranges. The idea was to protect against a Soviet missile attack at least long enough for Strategic Air Command to get a launch order from the President and retaliate with its own missiles.

  • Role: Buy time for the US to retaliate

Supposedly, the reason so many ICBMs are located in North Dakota (and surrounding states) is because it is the most remote part of the United States. It is the center and furthest point for any attack force to penetrate United States territory – that is, count Canada in strategic thinking as militarily part of the United States at the advent of war.


Related: 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Area 51

Mutual Assured Destruction and Interception of ICBMs

SRMSC is a reminder of the bad old days of the heyday of the Cold War. At the time, the answer to seemingly everything was to use atomic bombs – even to shoot down enemy bomber fleets, down ICBMs, etc.

The whole concept of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – is that one can annihilate the other nation with nuclear weapons. One is guaranteed to be erased in turn. But for this to be a credible threat, you have to be able to do at least two things.

  • CRAZY: The basic concept of nuclear deterrence

Launch fast enough – before enemy ICBMs destroy one of your missiles in their launch pads. Or one must have enough missiles stationed where the enemy cannot quickly destroy them on a first strike (like in ballistic missile submarines hidden in the ocean).


Today, interceptor missiles are incredibly state-of-the-art. They normally involve the use of kinetic energy to precisely impact and destroy a target missile. It is incredibly difficult and a successful hit is not guaranteed.

  • Interceptors today: Use precision and kinetic energy to destroy a target
  • SRMSC interceptors: Nuclear bombs to destroy everything

So if it’s so hard to do it today, how did they expect to do it in the 1970s? The answer is the caveman style. The idea was to fly another nuke and detonate it up there hoping to destroy whatever is in the sky around it.

Operational career and decommissioning

Thus, at a cost of several billions in today’s money, the site achieved initial operational capability on April 1, 1975, and reached full operational capability in October of that year. It would make a long and glorious career fully operational defending the nation’s ICBMs for a full 24 hours.


The day after it was fully operational, the House of Representatives voted to decommission it.

  • Fully operational: October 1, 1975
  • Voted to decommission: October 2, 1975
  • Fully operational period: 24 hours
  • Disabled: February 10, 1976

Related: The World’s Largest Armies and By How Much

Auction and future plans for the site

In 2012, it was auctioned for $530,000 to private companies. In 2020, plans were announced by the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (CCJDA) to build a historic interpretive center there (along with other investment programs). You can read their redevelopment updates on their website.

  • Future plans: To build a historic interpretation center there
  • Other planes: Develop a wind farm of 160 megawatts and 106 turbines

At the time of writing, it appears that the Cyclops-shaped pyramid (and the rest of the complex) is not yet open to the public. But as a historic interpretive center is supposed to be in the works, hopefully it will soon be open to the public.

However, it seems that the site is easily visible from the road.

Another air base we would like to visit is Area 51 and really see what is going on there.

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