By Buddy Blouin
Imagine if you will, a place free of conflict. There is no war and there are people working towards advancing humanity with common goals and a spirit of community. While this might sound like the makings of a John Lennon classic, it’s actually not just a pipe dream. Such a place exists, and it's full of adorable penguins to boot. We’re talking about Antarctica, the coldest continent on the big blue rock. Yet, despite this peaceful frontier, don’t be surprised if you come across an Antarctica military base installation. Learn more about the purpose of these installations and how that could change, for the worse, as time marches on.

Related Read: NATICE: The Navy Facility That Watches Icebergs All Day Long

Are There Military Bases in Antarctica?

This is a great question because it depends on who you ask. You’ll find an Antarctica military base on the continent, but also no, there are no bases there. This may seem confusing, but we need to break things down a bit to understand:
  • It’s against international law to conduct military activity in Antarctica, more on that later.
  • But that doesn’t mean there aren’t military operations or installations there.
  • You won’t find massive bases or live round testing, but there have been several military-related research teams gracing the glaciers for decades.
Research facilities are permitted here and various countries utilize this access to advance themselves and science as a whole. If you are looking for a secret military base in Antarctica, however, we hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t exist. Or perhaps, it’s so good at hiding we haven’t found it yet? Unlikely. Despite wild social media claims that pop up from time to time, there is no evidence of a secret Russian military base in Antarctica ala Camp Century.

How Many Countries Have Military Bases in Antarctica?

While there have been over 50 stations throughout the years on the continent of Antarctica, there are only 12 countries that can account for them. They include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia (formally the Soviet Union), South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For modern purposes, activities on the continent have been less full-on militaristic and have been ongoing in varying capacities since the 1940s. Of course, the continent may have been discovered far before the West stumbled upon it, but since then, various expeditions and research initiatives have been in place, and just because an Antarctic military base may not be fully centered on military endeavors, doesn’t mean there hasn't been any military activity here.

Suggested Read: The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Is America’s Key to Innovation

Military History on the World’s Coldest Continent

Antarctica military bases are more research centers than anything, but throughout history, there have indeed been military operations involving the continent. For example:
  • Operation Tabarin was a secret operation by the British during World War II that focused on strengthening claims to sovereignty for the Falkland Islands Dependencies (FID) against Argentina and Chile. A military base in Antarctica was established at Port Lockroy. Today the base is a registered historic site and has been turned into a museum.
  • Base General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme is the Chilean military base in Antarctica that has been operating since 1948. Its prime objectives involve scientific research and it is operated by the Chilean Army.
  • Operation Deep Freeze, aka OpDFrz or ODF, is the name that has been given to various missions operated by the United States in Antarctica. The first was Operation Deep Freeze I in 1955 and 1956, with many others to follow. Because the U.S. has remained there since that time, however, it's used generally for the various missions involving any Antarctica US military base.
Many believe that Task Force 199 (TF199), a classified unit of the military is involved. Though, for obvious reasons, this is difficult to verify.

The Antarctic Treaty

@mattykjordan Penguins are in charge in Antarctica, and we have safe distances that we have to remain from them to make sure we don’t disturb them. Sometimes, they take a liking to our equipment, so we have to find something else to do until they decide to move on. This penguin is an Adélie penguin that was hanging around the base and he took a liking to our excavator. We were more than happy to postpone our work to avoid disturbing him. #penguin #excavator #snow #antarctica #caterpillar #caterpillarequipment #snowclearing #penguins ♬ Anti-Hero (Edit) - Taylor Swift
Antarctica is unique for many reasons and one of them looks to remain a permanent characteristic of the continent. As of this writing, military conflict, at least through modern conventions, has not found its way to the land of ice and penguins and the Antarctic Treaty aims to keep it this way. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959 by 12 countries and serves to protect Antarctica from destructive operations and war. It designates Antarctica as a scientific preserve and bans military activity, ensuring a collaborative effort through science and research among those who inhabit it. This may be the sole reason that you don’t have a traditional Antarctica military base among any nation. So far, the treaty is working and military operations have remained non-destructive to the area. Preserving this land is important as there is still much we don’t know about the region including the many unique, delicate ecosystems that call it home. Many rules are in place to protect wildlife, as seen in this TikTok video where workers in Antarctica halt snow clearing so penguins can check out their tools.

Could Military Bases in Antarctica Become a Future Reality?

The hope is that everyone remains like-minded and respects the Antarctic Treaty, but as climate change and economic trends shift, a mounting threat is building. This is because many believe valuable resources are buried under the glaciers and ice sheets of the massive continent. Should economic pressures tighten and climate changes make such resources more accessible, well…history has a way of repeating itself. But for now, any Antarctica military base you find will be well suited to helping advance humanity rather than destroy it.

Read Next: Discover the NASA Langley Research Center’s Military Contributions




Get the latest news and military discounts