RAF Bentwaters Has This Bizarre-Looking Cold War Bunker Called The Star Wars Building

RAF Bentwaters bustled alongside RAF Woodbridge, commonly known as the ‘Twin Bases,’ near Britain’s eastern shore during the Cold War. Various tactical jet types were based there over the decades and the base had a nuclear alert mission during most of its existence that would have seen the atomic bombs stored in its high-security magazine sent to prosecute the apocalypse. Supposedly, it also played host to one of the most bizarre known encounters between the military and a seemingly unknown craft in 1980, an event commonly referred to as the Rendlesham Forest Incident

The base, which has been converted into a business and studio park of sorts after the U.S. Air Force vacated it in 1993, is like a Cold War Disneyland—a fairly ominous place frozen in time that has been used as the set to many entertainment projects over the years, and rightfully so. It has some cool features that would cost huge money to replicate for the big or small screen. Arguably the most bizarre of them is the aptly named and out of this world looking ‘Star Wars Building.’

I randomly stumbled across this odd structure while researching another project. I had never seen anything like it. It was clearly designed to attenuate the concussive shockwave from a nearby blast and make attacking it directly on the ground far more challenging, but it looked more like a modernist monument or something out of science fiction than the usual heavily reinforced concrete fortifications built for military applications. RAF Bentwaters looks like a movie set as it is, with its guard towers, fortified hangars and operations buildings, weapons magazines, and fenced in control areas, but this thing looked like it was dropped down to earth from another planet. 

Just some of the retired RAF Bentwaters include watchtowers, high-security weapons bunkers, an engine-run hush-house, and much more. , Bentwatersparks.com

After a bit of research into the intriguing structure, that is in a somewhat secluded area near the nuclear weapons storage area and surrounded by auxiliary aircraft parking areas, I quickly learned that it was nicknamed the “Star Wars Building,” which made perfect sense. But little else was available on why it was built, when it is what built, and who used it? Moreover, was this structure a one-of-a-kind design, or were there similar buildings at other U.S. air bases in Europe? I certainly haven’t heard of any. 

The almost temple-like Brutalist lines of the Star Wars Building. , Bentwatersparks.com

Military aviation museums are an incredible trove of knowledge that would otherwise be long forgotten. It turns out that the long-closed base has an outstanding one, the Bentwaters Cold War Museum. I reached out to them in an attempt to learn more about the structure in question. The reply I promptly received from the museum’s Graham Gilbert was absolutely awesome. 

When was the ‘Star Wars Building’ built and what was its primary use?

It wasn’t there in 1986 as we have an aerial photo from that year of the base, so I’m guessing it was around 1987/1988. It was built for the 527th Aggressor Squadron. The 527th Aggressor Squadron was one of a small number of specialist units that provided training to other squadrons on Soviet air combat techniques. The 527th with their F-16C Fighting Falcon jets covered all Europe’s NATO needs and there were also other aggressor squadrons in the USA and Asia. 

After a training mission with other NATO aircraft, which very often were based at Bentwaters on a week’s detachment, the Star Wars building was used as an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) debriefing facility where the pilots would go through the combat training mission they had just flown. 

The 527th had a short lifespan at Bentwaters… They were assigned to the base from 1st of July, 1988 until the 30th of September, 1990. The building was then used by the 510th Tactical Fighter Squadron’s maintenance personnel for staff use and keeping maintenance records on the Squadrons A-10 ‘Tank Buster’ jets which were located in that area of the airfield.

A Block 30 F-16C of the 527th Aggressor Squadron at RAF Woodbridge. A faded insignia is still visible on the hardened aircraft shelter today.  , USAF

It seems like a very unique design. Do you have any details about how it ended up looking like that?

The wall around the single-story building is to help protect it from nearby bomb blasts if a war had broken out. The front walls are faceted to deflect the blast away from the building, although the side and rear walls are flat!

Inside the Star Wars Building today. The facility is quite large with a labyrinth of rooms, lab-like areas, and corridors., Bentwatersparks.com

To your knowledge, is there any other structure similar to it at other bases in the UK or Europe?

As far as we know it is a one-off design.

Can you give me a little history on the base’s nuclear mission? What type of alert was in place and what aircraft would deliver the weapons if the call had come? What special alterations were made to the base for this purpose?

The USAF’s 81st Fighter Wing who arrived at RAF Bentwaters (and RAF Woodbridge close by, they were known as the Twin Bases) in September, 1951. The 81st was an all fighter-interceptor F-86 Sabre equipped wing, then from October, 1954 on, the Wing started to re-equip with the F-84F Thundersteak which had a tactical nuclear strike mission. Being a single seat and single-engined jet, they carried one small nuclear bomb and targets would have been airfields and other military targets. 

The F-84F Thunderstreaks were replaced with the F-101A/F-101C Voodoo in 1958, the Voodoo was twin-engined and bigger, but was still a single pilot aircraft. The Voodoo’s were replaced with the F-4C Phantom in 1966 (later the F-4D model replaced the C) which were roughly the same size as the Voodoo, but had two crew. These were all still tactical nuclear strike mission aircraft. We have spoken to some of the pilots who said they knew it was going to be a one-way mission. One F-101 Voodoo pilot told us that his target was a military airfield in Poland and after dropping his bomb he was to fly to a spot near the Norwegian coast and eject and await pick-up from a U.S submarine. 

Phantoms at RAF Bentwaters in 1978, shortly before the base lost its nuclear mission. , National Archives

When the A-10 ‘Tank Buster’ jets replaced the F-4 Phantoms in 1979, the nuclear strike mission finished. There are eight alert ‘barns’ on Bentwaters (four at Woodbridge) which were located in the ‘victor alert’ area close to the Western end of the runway so that the jets could take-off to the East. When operational, this area was highly secure with triple fences and a security tower. The jets on alert would sit loaded with a nuke one to each ‘barn’ and depending on the alert status, the crews would be inside a separate building close to their aircraft. 

National Archives

The nukes were stored on base in a special bomb store called the WSA, Weapons Storage Area. This was a row of earth-covered bunkers also in a very secure area with triple fences, entry control zone, dog patrols, security tower, and a security police blockhouse which also contained an armored vehicle.

Here are three great videos. The first is of the base in 2001, including the abandoned Star Wars Building, which pops up at seven minutes and 25 seconds into the video’s runtime. The second is some more recent drone footage of the base, with great shots of the Stars Wars Building and the nuclear weapons storage area. The third is just the second part of the video:

The best photo collection I have seen of this haunting place is from Behind Closed Doors Urban Exploration, which you can and absolutely should check out here. They include the best shots of the interior of the Star Wars Building and some great images of the nuclear storage areas and checkpoints. 

So, there you have it, the strange and totally unique Star Wars Building at RAF Bentwaters, a relic to a time long gone that lives on today to make fantasy a reality. Because of its current mission, the good news is that you may very well see the structure appear in a blockbuster movie or science fiction show. Bentwaters Parks, which now operates the installation for commercial purposes, rents out various areas for television and film production, as well as for creative events. I mean, the high-security gate and turnstile area alone is just about as good as it gets for a military thriller or dystopian movie set, right?


So, if you have a use for the Star Wars Building or any other part of the installation, make your sci-fi or Cold War vision come true by giving Bentwaters Parks a call

A huge thanks to the Bentwaters Cold War Museum. What a fascinating place. Make sure to check them out if you are in the area!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com