By Myles, James R.; Cast, Michael E.
Army , Vol. 57, No. 1
As the United States wages a war against terrorism abroad and strives to be ready for attacks at home, the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) conducts rigorous testing designed to mirror the realities of war. At sites as remote as the Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska, and as close to the nation's capital as Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground, ATEC is helping the Army give soldiers the weapons and equipment they need to have a decisive edge.
The command's three subordinate organizations-the Developmental Test Command (DTC), the Operational Test Command (OTC) and the Army Evaluation Center (AEC)-are the centers of expertise for the Army's test and evaluation programs. DTC's Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) in southwestern Arizona, one of the harshest desert regions in the United States, is where the Army can punish military weapon systems and gear with extensive testing. Scorching summer temperatures and a rugged, rock-littered landscape where dust, sand and grit can get into engines and intake systems give YPG a test environment that rivals the world's most forbidding and unforgiving places. The proving ground features America's longest overland artillery test range, most highly instrumented helicopter test range, six airfields and more than 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace. The data collected at YPG range's and test sites give the Army a picture of how systems will tore in a desert environment, before soldiers have to find out the hard way.
One of YPG's ranges is the site of the Joint Experimentation Range Complex (JFRC), where a representative urban environment stands amid the bleak landscape of the lower Sonora Desert. Consisting of hundreds of buildings, 14 miles of paved rondway, a section of railroad, a highway overpass and more, the complex provides a unique and realistic facility for testing countermeasures to the latest threats.
In 2003, the Combating Terrorism Technology Taskforce (CTTTF) asked YPG to develop an urban environment for testing systems designed to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Often called "roadside bombs," IEDs are the number-one threat to Coalition forces in Iraq. Construction began in December 2003, and the first test of a counter-IED system took place there the following January. Since then, extensive testing of counter-IED systems has helped save American lives overseas. Nearly 300 counter-IED systems and system variants have been tested since the JERC site was constructed.
But testing is not confined to YPG. Counter-IED efforts have begun in combat theater. ATEC has deployed a Forward Operational Assessment team to Iraq to help the Army evaluate solutions to problems encountered by troops in theater. YPC provided several team members to add the developmental tester's perspective and help define test requirements.
YPG also is working in the Iraq theater with several operational units, assisting in the fielding of electronic warfare systems. The team defines the requirements for testing stateside at the JERC. "We have immediate two-way feedback to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Rick Douglas, team leader and 27-year Yu m a Proving Ground veteran. "The work we perform on a system today is oftentimes used in theater tomorrow. When things need fixing, they are sent here; we do the work and return them fast."
YPG continues to expand facilities to support the war on terrorism. Construction has begun on another urban test area known as JERC2 and will have capabilities similar to the first JERC. Following lessons learned from testing at JERC, the road network is being redesigned to improve test efficiency. The terrain at JERC2 is different from the primarily flat landscape of the earlier site. This rougher terrain uses the natural environment to provide for more realistic testing.
Another threat in the desert environment is aircraft accidents, particularly when vision is reduced. One of the recent test programs at YPG was designed to give Army aviators a margin of safety when landing in desert areas, where rotor wash can whip up clouds of blinding dust as helicopter pilots are landing or taking off. …