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Misawa begins dismantling its 'Elephant Cage'

Misawa begins dismantling its 'Elephant Cage'

Misawa begins dismantling its 'Elephant Cage'

By Erik Slavin
Stars and Stripes
Published: October 15, 2014

View the article on the Stars and Stripes Web site

Photo info: Misawa Air Base's AN/FLR-9 antenna, known as the 'Elephant Cage,' is seen just before the beginning of demolition Oct. 15, 2014. Jordyn Rucker/U.S. Air Force

TOKYO — Now is the time for the elephants to strike.

Misawa Air Base began the long-planned dismantling of the Cold War-era antenna array known as the “Elephant Cage” on Wednesday.

The Elephant Cage earned its nickname, in part, due to the secrecy surrounding it.

The cage, which was built from 1963-65, stood 137 feet tall and contained three concentric circles. It was impossible to ignore, but its purpose remained classified for years.

On a website maintained by the Federation of American Scientists, a former airman wrote that his Misawa-based supervisor, Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Rabig, perpetuated the Elephant Cage moniker.

“He maintained that was their purpose and justified the explanation by pointing out: 'They work pretty well, don't they? You don't see any elephants running around loose do you?' I guess the name stuck."

Others speculated that the cage, known properly as the FLR-9, was a “missile catcher” deployed to defend against a Soviet Union attack.

Its actual purpose was a bit less dramatic.

The Elephant Cage, which was modeled on a previous German design, was built to detect high-frequency radio waves transmitted by the Soviet Union and its satellite states. It could directionally locate signals from up to 4,000 nautical miles away, according to Misawa officials.

With the advancement of space-based and other technologies, the Elephant Cage has outlived its usefulness, Air Force officials said.

Misawa’s version was one of several cages built around the world at various installations, including Clark Air Base in the Philippines and RAF Chicksands in England.

The last Elephant Cage still operating is at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.

The Elephant Cage at Misawa was decommissioned in 2012 and was supposed to be dismantled last year, but contracting and funding issues delayed it until now, Misawa officials said.

When demolition is completed, the Air Force will have a pleasant dilemma on their hands: what to do with large chunk of waterfront property.

“There are talks of possibly expanding Leftwich Park, which is near the site,” 35th Fighter Wing spokesman Staff Sgt. Tong Duong said.

Grass will be replanted at the site in the near term, Duong added.

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About Us

The NCMF directly supports the National Cryptologic Museum (NCM), the first public museum in the U.S. Intelligence Community. We think you will agree it is truly a "museum like no other."

Located adjacent to the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland, the NCM houses a priceless collection of artifacts that represent our Nation's history in code making and code breaking, as well as a world class library of cryptologic media. The NCMF acquires the best artifacts for the NCM and supports new educational and interactive exhibits.

The NCMF provides exceptional cryptologic programs throughout the year, encourages young minds to explore cryptology and innovation through valued awards, and hosts educational, cryptology-related exhibits at various community events.

As part of the Foundation's partnership with NSA to build the Cyber Center for Education and Innovation - Home of the National Cryptologic Museum (CCEI-NCM), the NCMF also serves as a leader in the field of cybersecurity - striving to provide the best in educational resources and programs.

The NCMF and NCM share a joint three-fold mission to Educate, Stimulate, and Commemorate. Learn more about our MISSION.