Most people are familiar with the Area 51 facility, the infamous top-secret Air Force base in Nevada whose existence the U.S. government acknowledged publicly for the first time only in 2013 despite decades-old rumors about the facility keeping extraterrestrials and advanced technology flying saucers. But only very few have heard of the equally secretive Area 6 facility. The lack of public awareness about Area 6 may be due partly to the overshadowing fame of Area 51.
Located a few miles northeast of the Area 51 facility in Nevada is the top-secret Area 6 facility, a Nevada air base used currently by several government agencies for testing unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with special sensors and for conducting related research and development work, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.Practically nothing is known about the details of ongoing R&D at Area 6. The overshadowing fame of Area 51 may explain why security arrangement at the site appears more relaxed despite its equal status as a top-secret facility. For instance, the closest people are allowed to approach Area 51 -- nestled behind mountain ranges -- is 26 miles, marked by the Tikaboo Peak. But tourists are allowed to come within viewing range of Area 6 fences and the visitor checkpoint.
Much of the elaborate security around Area 51 may have evolved in response to the intense curiosity about the site by members of the UFO and conspiracy theory community who flock from every corner of the globe to snoop around in the forlorn hope of a glimpse of an alien corpse or the alien UFO supposedly stored at the site.The near-total lack of public awareness about Area 6, despite its equal status with Area 51 as a top-secret government R&D site, inadvertently highlights claims in some conspiracy theory circles that the authorities deliberately nurtured public awareness about Area 51 so that it can serve as a decoy that diverts attention from the real top-secret bases where research and development work related to advanced aeronautical technology is currently ongoing.
So effective has been the strategy to keep a low profile about the site that even defense industry expert John Pike, director of GlolbalSecurity.org, a defense information group, admitted he had not heard about Area 6 before the new Google Map image emerged.
The general lack of public awareness about the site and dearth of information about the goings-on behind the security fences could be demonstrated readily by running a quick Google search on the facility.
Google Earth photos reveal the top-secret site is located in a remote part of the Nevada National Security Site, Yucca Flat, about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It consists of a mile-long asphalt runway and a complex of buildings and hangars at the southern end of the runway.The Google Maps images show the Area 6 asphalt runway, which was built in 2005 over a dirt landing strip constructed in the 1950s. The facility is part of the Nevada National Security Site run by the National Security Administration. At the time that the Area 6 facility was built in the 1950s, at a cost of $9.6 million, it was used as an underground nuclear bomb test site.
Underground nuclear bomb tests involve detonating nuclear weapons after they have been buried at a sufficient depth to contain the explosion and prevent the release of radioactive material to the atmosphere.Several underground nuclear tests were conducted at the site between 1945 and 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The mile-long runway was constructed in 2005, and later, four small buildings linked by covered walkways, a large hanger, and two smaller hangers were added. The site also has antennas installed on the ground to allow operators on the ground to control UAVs undergoing testing.
The National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman, Darwin Morgan, finally volunteered information about the site to the Las Vegas Review-Journal after months of silence. He explained that the site is now used by federal agencies, including the Department of Defense and the Homeland Security, as a secret site for testing UAVs equipped with special sensors.
Morgan said that government agencies use the test site because its restricted airspace provides secrecy and protection from spy satellites.
"We have controlled airspace and that gives them opportunities to test various types of platforms," Morgan said. "We do a wide variety of work for others - supporting people with sensor development activities. It evolved from the nuclear testing program. We had to have very good sensors to collect data in a split second before they were obliterated."
"The purpose of this facility is to construct, operate, and test a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles. Tests include, but are not limited to, airframe modifications, sensor operation, and onboard computer development."
Morgan refused to volunteer any additional information. And despite what is known in general terms about the function of the site, practically nothing is known about the details of ongoing R&D at the site.
But Area 6 is also believed to be used by Pentagon for counter-terrorism R&D, such as testing equipment designed to detect lethal gases, chemicals, and radioactive materials that terrorists could use with conventional explosives to build "dirty bombs."
Defense experts with GlobalSecurity.org also told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that sensors being developed and tested at the site may include those installed on killer drones and used in conflict zones.
According to Pike, the runway appears too small for larger aircraft and UAVs such as the RQ-170 Sentinel. He explained that the site was most likely used for testing small UAVs fitted with sensors for sniffing out concealed personnel and weapons on the ground. Such sensors are vital to the U.S. "war on terror" in the Middle East and elsewhere, where drones have to be able to sniff out and eliminate terrorists in the desert and mountainous terrain, including along the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders.
According to Tim Brown, an analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, the length of the runway confirms it could be used for testing smaller aircraft and UAVs such as the Predator and Reaper. He noted that the hanger is large enough to house up to 15 MQ-9 Reaper drones.
[Image via Shutterstock]