Hidden in the hills of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. Originally the tunnels were built to be used in a Cold War experiment to test the protective capabilities of permafrost.

Nearly all of the technology in many of the world’s most ubiquitous electronic devices can be traced to a single, taxpayer-funded source: the US Department of Defense. What some people don’t know is a lot of engineering also can be traced back to the DoD. The Permafrost tunnels, originally created to test arctic survival has become a critical asset in developing long-lasting infrastructure in the arctic. U.S. Air Force video // Tech Sgt. Perry Aston

However, scientists quickly discovered the tunnel would be valuable for studying geology, paleontology and a variety of engineering, mining and construction techniques specific to frozen environments.

Studying the 40,000-year-old frozen environment has allowed engineers to better understand the characteristics of permafrost and develop techniques to build long lasting structures in an Arctic environment.

Graphic // Travis Burcham

Read More about the Air Force and the Arctic:

Foundation for Arctic Security

The DoD’s Eielson AFB regional growth plan will bring $500 million in infrastructure, including hangars, housing, maintenance facilities and simulators to prepare for an influx of the 3,500 airmen that will support the F-35 mission. All will be built in the unforgiving environment of Interior Alaska. 

Northern Vision

As commander of NORAD’s Alaskan Region, Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere directs operations to ensure effective surveillance, monitoring and defense of the region’s airspace. He is also responsible for the planning and execution of all homeland defense operations within the area of responsibility, including security and civil support actions. 

Arctic Challenge

Both of the United States’ near peer adversaries — Russia and China — present challenges to U.S. national security as they establish a larger strategic footprint, both commercially and militarily, in this newly accessible environment. 

Engaging The Arctic

Environmental changes that are leading to increased activity above the Arctic Circle. The result has been the opening of sea lanes year-round, increasing both Russian and Chinese civilian and military presence near U.S. borders and the borders of its allies. 

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