Why is there a Naval reserch base in Nevada

Decided, on a whim, to drive from Las Vegas to Reno.

Came across a US Naval Undersea Warfare facility in Hawthorne. If you zoom in on the Google satellite image, you’ll see a strange series of low bumps with roads leading to them. Those were hundreds of bunkers, 20’ x 40’, half dug into the dunes.

Why is there an undersea warfare facility in Nevada? Privacy? What are the bunkers and why are there so many of them?

Well, I’d say you can probably do small-scale research anywhere. So perhaps they do scale models and prototype/design work? Still seems somewhat inefficient though. Perhaps it was one of the more, er, unscrupulous spending bills?

That or they’re trying to fight those nasty sand sharks.

sounds like a perfect place to work on rail guns. Nice wide open spots

My answer was going to be, “Because there are senators and congressmen from Nevada.”

Bunkers in Hawthorne

Sounds like the navy hasn’t completely shut down.

  1. Population. People around energetic materials research and testing centers* tend to complain about their windows rattling and the sound of the explosives. It’s a real problem, but is often exaggerated by residents. Quite a bit of money was spent to monitor decibel levels at various locations in the town adjacent to a testing facility I used to work. The first time the results came back, we couldn’t find where the explosive peak was. Whomever set the sensors up put them too close to the road, and the vehicle sounds driving by were greater than the sounds from the test.

  2. Mountains. Mountains are a great asset to shielding population centers and other facilities when they’re far enough away that they don’t influence the blast wave during the test. I worked on a backside of a mountain, and virtually every facility was tucked away on the backside of the mountain. The only one I can think of that wasn’t intentionally wide open was the Sled Track, which was on top of a mesa.

  3. Climate. I’m less sure about the physics behind this one, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. We tried as hard as realistically possible to schedule our testing on clear days. When there’s a lot of moisture in the air, or when a front is moving past, a temperature inversion layer can be formed. This difference in temperature creates a sharp temperature gradient between the troposphere and the ionosphere. The surface interface will cause a reflected wave to bounce back down to Earth, past the mountains. This effect can happen miles away from the original detonation for a large test.

  4. If this isn’t a weapons testing facility, change my answer to apply to China Lake, which is in the same mountain range.

*The place I used to work was called EMRTC. Just had to toss the acronym in there. :cool:

ETA: Squink, I love how you found the super secret password!

BTW, there was a story about a massive immigration bust today, which mentioned in passing that the control center of this effort was in

The better to keep the Canadians out, no doubt.

As for the OP, the political divvying up of bases might have an impact, though I don’t feel like researching it.

Google - Hawthorne Army Depot. All those bumps are ammunition bunkers - earth covered concrete arches called igloos. Everything you ever wanted to know; construction, history, current usage.

The Navy built a number of large inland depots just before and during WWII. The Navy had an unpleasant experience at Lake Denmark (Navy facility at Picatinney Arsenal, NJ in the mid 20s so wanted to spread out the risk to any one installation. Lake Denmark was leveled- trees, buildings, you name it. Hawthorne’s counterpart in the east is Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Indiana. Also see for the central US; McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, McAlester, OK and a closed facility in Hastings Nebraska. Another large rocket motor facility (and other items) was built in Camden, Arkansas. The Camden facility is home to dozens of munitions contractors. The site already has most explosive safety features built into the design.

These depots/manufacturing plants/testing sites were taken over by the Army in the later 1970s when conventional ammunition was moved under the Army. Specific munitions like missiles, underwater mine, and torpedoes were retained by the individual services.

The currently open ones; McAlester, Hawthorne, and Crane; still have Navy components operating on the installations (Surface Weapons Centers and the like).


There is also an R&D facility at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

WSMR is mainly an Army base, but the Navy has a unit there as well.

Their building is named the U.S.S. Desert Ship (LSS-1)



The Navy used to have an air station in San Diego County which was inland–not on the coast. (For some reason they handed it over to the Marines.) Apparently there are things the Navy does which doesn’t require an Ocean.

There is also a Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana, south of Indianapolis. I always wondered how it ended up there.

There used to be a naval training installation more or less in downtown Orlando - an hours’ drive from the sea, and an hour and a half from the nearest coastal naval installation.

Yes, but that makes more sense than utterly land-locked, hundreds of miles from the ocean Nevada, you see. :wink:

One of the Navy’s most important acoustic research facilities is located a ways north of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Sounds weird until you find out that there’s a very deep lake there that is perfect for floating model submarines and ships about and doing simulations and stuff.

They do sonar testing in Seneca lake. About 270 miles from the ocean.

Well answer me this one, why is there a Naval Air Station just north of Memphis, TN?

This has simply got to be pork, right?


There’s a naval base in Ballston Spa in upstate NY, nowhere near the ocean. But the purpose of this base is training people to operate nuclear propulsion systems. This training is done on dry land so there’s no particular need to be near the water. Presumedly the same is true of the base in Nevada.

Are you thinking of NAS Miramar? (Now MCAS…) Only a 10 minute drive to the ocean from there… much shorter by jet, I’m sure.

BRAC closed MCAS El Toro, where the Marines kept their west coast F-18’s.

The Navy was retiring the F-14’s, stationed at Miramar.

So, the Navy gave the Marines Miramar.

Now, NAS El Centro is much farther east. (2 hours by highway.) Used as the winter training area for the “Blue Angles”, among other things.