6 Images of Abandoned Weaponry You Won't Believe Are Real
Rare, expensive materials, cutting-edge designs and top-secret prototypes are all hallmarks of the military industrial complex. It's how they produce all their beautiful toys: the stealth fighters, nuclear submarines and flying fortresses that are the cornerstone of our childhood fantasies and Michael Bay movies. But what happens when you get bored of your new toys? Why, you just toss them out into the middle of a field somewhere. Sure, they are worth a billion dollars and took dozens of years of intricate design and revision, but have you ever built a garage? That shit is hard.
The Mothball Fleet
Pack up your towel, your shaky folding chairs, your ineffective cooler and those hilarious shorts that make it look like you're naked from the waist down, because you, sir or madam, are going to tear it up at the beach. Just as soon as you find a nice, secluded one that won't be too crowded, of course. When you get there, you turn to survey the vast beauty of nature (read: ogle some half-clad asses), but instead spy only an endless armada of motley battleships in various states of disrepair. You were looking for the nude beach, but you've accidentally wandered into the post-apocalyptic section.
There are thousands of government-owned ships sitting at anchor all around the United States right now. They're part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), a collection of mothballed ships ostensibly for use in national emergencies or other times of crisis. But as the decades roll by, wars and disasters come and go, and still the ships just sit. Some are dismantled; some are abandoned until they rust and sink. And these fleets aren't hidden away in remote, top-secret locations, either: One of the biggest collections is the NDRF Ghost Fleet at Suisun Bay, California, only 30 miles northeast of San Francisco. Among that fleet is the battleship Iowa, which played a large part in several of America's wars, including WWII and Korea. In short, what used to be this:
Now looks like this:
Wait, is that ...?
Yes, that's duct tape covering the barrels. Clearly, this ship no longer presents any danger to society, should some unscrupulous individual seek to steal it and show his ex-wife's handsome new playboy boyfriend what he thinks of his precious yacht. Oh, but that would never happen, because even if you get past the duct tape (psh, good luck!), there must be tons of security, right? Not so much. In May 2011, Scott Haefner -- less of an "international superthief" and more of a "casual boat fan" -- managed to break through fleet security and spend an entire weekend photographing the remaining fleet. He and a friend boarded the ships and hopped from vessel to vessel for 48 hours, using only an inflatable raft and a few other supplies you could buy from any camping supply store. One of the greatest surprises Scott stumbled upon while out dicking around on the ghost armada was the Sea Shadow (IX-529).
That's a stealth ship that the military spent $195 million and over 10 years building and testing before unceremoniously dumping it where it now sits ... inside a larger mothballed multi-million-dollar ship, the Hughes Mining Barge. This is the same barge that helped raise the Soviet submarine K-129 from the Pacific Ocean floor in the summer of 1974, so it's not like these ships were unusable or defective in any way. They were simply forgotten.
Although to be fair, the Navy didn't necessarily want to mothball the Sea Shadow; that was a last resort. They initially tried to give it away for free. But since any takers would also have to take the Hughes Barge, no one took them up on the offer.
Today, the USS Iowa would cost $1.5 billion to build, which, combined with the Sea Shadow's $200 million, means there's at least $1.7 billion just floating out there in the bay, waiting for bored bloggers to raft out and walk around on top of it.
Despite what one would reasonably assume, this isn't just a side effect of the arrogant and wasteful nature of Western capitalist pig-dogs: When the Soviet Union collapsed, it could no longer fully fund its navy and so was also forced to abandon its ships to the elements. Now they sit in ports like Murmansk, rotting, rusting and practically begging for a Scooby-Doo episode to fire up inside of them.
But more worrisome than the sheer monetary waste might be the ecological factor: Since 1958, the USSR has built 450 naval nuclear reactors, and most of them are still technically in service ... but only because they were never taken out of it. Some of them are doubtless still sitting in these slowly sinking hulls, just waiting to either explode, contaminate the nearby waters or possibly whip up some ad-hoc Incredible Hulks. Think that's just idle conjecture on our part? Nope: In the 10 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, 170 nuclear submarines were taken out of service, but only 40 of those were ever officially dismantled.
Even now, more than 20 years after the fall of the USSR, Russia still doesn't have the resources to scrap their former fleet. They're still out there, all nuclear and floaty and rusty, just waiting for the Russian counterpart of Scott Haefner to come play with them and maybe accidentally kick off WWIII when he tries to make a bong out of a control rod.
Abandoned Russian Submarine Base
Ah, vacation time: Find an obscure little island paradise, kick off your shoes, roll into the hammock and just let the stress wash away. Yep, the hardest thing you'll have to do all day is take a leisurely walk with the dog. Maybe he'll run off barking at something unseen and disappear into a darkened hole in the side of a cliff, but what are you gonna do? He's your buddy. You have to go after him, and when you do, you might stumble right into the lair of a James Bond villain:
Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Balaklava Submarine Base was one of the most well-kept secrets in the CCCP. It was high tech, strategically important and hardened to withstand a nuclear attack.
But the last ship left port way back in 1995, leaving behind memories of a more tense and warlike time, a few cigarette butts, a crushed beer can or two and, oh yeah, a couple of nuclear SS-N-23 Skiff ballistic missiles that were forgotten in a rusting sub for years before the Russians ever noticed them.
That's right: Russia forgets nukes like you forget boxed-up quesadilla leftovers at T.G.I. Friday's.
The desert: a spiritual respite. It's harsh, unforgiving and merciless, and there's a whole bunch of it right outside of Tucson, so you can swing into an In-N-Out Burger for a Sprite break if shit gets too real in the Mojave. You won't go tripping over the abandoned detritus of a world war in a place like this, right? Right. Just crest this one last dune and --
This is just outside the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona. It's called the Boneyard, and it's where military aircraft go to die. The arid desert climate is perfect for mothballing aircraft with minimal damage to their components, so they can be cannibalized for scrap later. But these are junk planes, right? Surely nothing valuable is just sprawled out in the desert sun waiting for somebody to figure out what to do with it. Well, a closer look shows the profile of a number of recognizable aircraft, including B-52s (B-52H models cost upwards of $50 million each) and F-14 jets (of Top Gun fame, and each of which cost $38 million to produce). And there are hundreds upon hundreds of them, all just sitting out there, oxidizing.
At Davis-Monthan, there are over 4,000 planes waiting in the desert just to be torn apart. Which might be sad for aviation fans and infuriating for fiscal conservatives, but it sure makes for some awesome Google Earth pictures for bored Internet explorers.
Yes, this is inexplicably one of the higher-res Google Earth locations (some things just feel classified, you know?),and you can zoom in close enough to easily make out any number of models in various states of disrepair. It's like a huge browser-based game of Where's Waldo?, only instead of looking for a bespectacled Canadian mime at the zoo, you're looking for a live missile in a haystack made of billion-dollar aircraft.
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You know what the problem with that last trip was? You just didn't go far enough away. The whole appeal of the desert is the deserted part. If you really want to get away from it all without falling headlong into an aircraft carrier orgy or something, you just need to open up a map, spin the globe and pick a spot in the middle of the damn ocean. Aaaand hey, of course it's a military base. A completely vacant military base in the middle of the ocean. Of course.
Johnston Atoll, an island located 750 miles west of Hawaii, was basically the Area 51 of the Pacific Ocean in its day. But everything has its uses, and a time when those uses end: In 2004, it was decommissioned and abandoned. What's the big deal? So we left the island and a bit of tarmac behind when we were finished, so what?
So we built the whole damn thing -- island and all -- almost from scratch, that's what. This whole thing is artificial ... or at least most of it is. The island was enlarged so much as to be almost unrecognizable from its original form.
Though the exact cost of the project is unknown (aquatic Area 51, remember?), a comparable project in scope and scale would be the Japanese Kansai Airport. That was another artificial island built to support a landing strip, and it cost around $20 billion. Sure, the Kansai Airport was larger, and built entirely from scratch, but it was also right next to a major metropolis, where building materials could easily be driven, ferried or lifted right over to the island in relative peace. Johnston Atoll was built in the middle of friggin' nowhere, where everything from building materials to cranes to the gasoline to run them had to be shipped thousands of miles out into the open ocean ... right in the middle of one of the most conflicted periods in world history.
Ahhh, the majestic Pacific Northwest. The subtle swish of the forest in the wind, the crisp snowfall crunching beneath your feet, the 150-foot-deep hole you've just fallen through that apparently leads to the buried ruins of The Jetsons' Orbit City.
That's a Titan 1 missile complex. One such complex consists of 16 underground buildings and several aboveground support structures sprawling over 57 acres in central Washington. The Titans were built at a cost of about $170 million (roughly $1.26 billion in 2011 dollars) apiece. The bases themselves were only operational for a span of about five years, but during that time they would have been able to keep 150 men alive for up to 30 days without any outside support in the event of a nuclear war. After they were made obsolete by new, portable missile-launching systems, all of the installations were decommissioned, and without regular maintenance, most of them completely rusted out or flooded due to ground water leakage. Seriously ... everybody just straight up left; they closed the doors on their comic book style super fortresses, engaged the deadbolt and then just walked away forever, presumably while whistling a carefree tune.
Not all of them, though, and the Feds did eventually remember the billion-dollar sci-fi set pieces they left scattered all across America. So they auctioned the surviving structures off ... by listing them on eBay.
That's right: They went from the 1960s all the way up until the invention and popularization of the internet before ever checking to see if anybody was maybe interested in living in the closest thing to a real life moonbase.
Let's take a little hike in the forest, shall we? We'll commune with nature, get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and just enjoy a good old-fashioned holy shit tank war! We call T-80s!
When the shit first hit the fan in Afghanistan -- no, not the American conflict, the one before that. No, no not the British invasion either, the other one. The Rambo one. The Soviets! Yeah, that's the ticket -- toward the tail end of that conflict, the Russian army was forced to leave in a hurry, abandoning tons of military hardware to rust away outside the Kabul airport. These particular tanks were abandoned hastily, out of desperation, but if you're thinking this is the military equivalent of you forgetting your cellphone -- all frantically patting down their pockets and realizing they forgot a whole fleet of armored death machines back there, then cursing themselves for it the whole way home -- you should know this is apparently standard practice. In 2010, it was discovered that the Russians left over 200 functional tanks unguarded for four months in a forest near the city of Yekaterinburg. As one local gleefully put it:
After all the publicity, a military spokesman did come forward and claim the tanks were actually being guarded by elite special patrols the whole time, although the drunken Russian dudes playing hide and seek all up in their military hardware would beg to differ. Military officials, in a shocking first for this article, decided to err on the side of caution and hastily relocate the tanks anyway.
That's right: You guys wouldn't let them have pretend special military patrols, so they took their toys and went home. Good job, jerks, now nobody gets to play Tank-Tag.
For more ridiculous government projects, check out Nuke the Moon: 5 Certifiably Insane Cold War Projects and 5 Projects You Won't Believe the US Government Is Working On.