U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dillion Puegot fires at targets during a long-range raid exercise as part of Exercise Steel Knight at Yuma Proving Grounds. (Photo by Sgt. Akeel A. Austin)
Located in southwest Arizona adjacent to the Colorado River, the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground is one of the largest military installations in the world. Yuma Proving Ground extends over 1,300 square miles of varied desert terrain, including wide sandy valleys, craggy peaks and open desert. The varied geography permits numerous test and training activities to take place at the same time, with an average of 60 to 90 tests taking place each week. The proving ground also controls 2,000 miles of restricted airspace over largely unpopulated desert terrain. This permits highly realistic testing for developers of unmanned aircraft and helicopter sensor and weapon systems.
The proving ground conducts a wide variety of military tests throughout the year, consisting of nearly every commodity in the ground combat arsenal. As part of the Army Test and Evaluation Command, its primary mission is to conduct tests on medium- and long-range artillery, aircraft armament and fire control systems, cargo and personnel airdrop systems, unmanned aerial systems, armored vehicles and automotive equipment, technologies for defeating roadside bombs and more. The proving ground is one of the few places where military munitions and hardware can be tested in an area almost completely removed from urban encroachment and noise concerns.
Yuma Proving Ground manages three separate test centers. The first, Yuma Test Center, operates at Yuma Proving Ground. The second, Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska, tests weapon systems amid the coldest climate in the United States. The third, Tropic Regions Test Center, tests military systems in some of the harshest jungles of the world in Panama, Honduras, Suriname, Hawaii and other locations. Each of these three test centers represents a climate extreme. Rigorous, realistic testing ensures that American military equipment and munitions operate and function as advertised, anywhere around the globe.
Other tenants and activities at Yuma Proving Ground include Aerostat, the Military Freefall School, the Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers Course, and the Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Support Laboratory.
Yuma Test Center
Yuma Test Center, a multipurpose test complex, works with nearly every commodity in the ground combat arsenal. The center is also the Army’s desert environment test expert, where grueling terrain and extreme heat combine to challenge equipment in demanding real-world conditions. All the center’s test sites are connected by more than 600 miles of fiber optic cable.
Yuma Test Center’s clean air, low humidity, minimal rainfall (only about 3 inches per year) and annual average of 350 sunny days add up to almost perfect testing and training conditions. Because of its remote location, urban encroachment and noise concerns are nonexistent.
The test center boasts the entire infrastructure for fully and realistically testing nearly all weapon systems in the ground combat arena. Most importantly, the proving ground has it all for a wide variety of commodity areas: artillery, manned and unmanned aviation systems, armor, tactical vehicle, electronic countermeasure and air delivery testing. This powerful combined arms synergy is efficient and cost-effective for military equipment developers.
Hovering 15,000 feet in the sky above the mountains northeast of Yuma Proving Ground’s headquarters area is the helium-filled aerostat balloon. The balloon keeps its state-of-the-art eye focused on one thing: low-flying airplanes. Part of a six-aerostat team forming a radar fence along the southern United States, it watches for drugs being flown across the international border.
Although the aerostat is on Yuma Proving Ground property, the proving ground just provides the location and airspace security. The Department of Homeland Security operates the balloon.
Military Freefall School
The Military Freefall School, part of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, is a joint forces training school covering all aspects of military freefall parachuting in three courses: basic, jumpmaster and advanced military freefall. These classes teach students to use HALO (high altitude low opening) and HAHO (high altitude high opening) parachuting techniques and include platform, hands-on and actual parachute operations.
Students come from all military services and typically originate in elite organizations such as the U.S. Army Special Forces and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Reconnaissance, and Air Force Pararescue and Combat Controllers. After the courses, students are sent to a variety of locations, with the majority going to special operations assignments with Army Special Forces “A” detachments, Navy SEAL teams or combat reconnaissance teams.
Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers Course
The Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers Course teaches Special Forces troops from the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps the conduct of close air support missions and fully certifies them as qualified joint terminal attack controllers. Since the use of close air support is a very real possibility whenever a unit enters combat, controlling these missions from the ground is critical. The concise and detailed dialog between the controller on the ground and the pilot in the sky is what affords the prosecution of the target and the ability to avoid friendly casualties.
SOTACC involves high explosive bombs dropped from aircraft thousands of feet above providing close air support to ground troops. The course, offered six times each year, trains students to conduct precise close air support missions involving the control of multiple aircraft flying at different altitudes and approaching from various directions.
All bombing and firing missions take place over Yuma Proving Ground, on an approximately 35-square-mile zone, which is a 25-minute drive from SOTACC’s classroom facilities. A number of armored tank hulls and trucks are positioned within the square for use as targets.
Aircraft fly in from a number of nearby military installations such as Luke, Davis-Monthan and Nellis Air Force bases, Marine Corps air stations Yuma and Miramar, and more. Generally, pilots are eager to participate in missions with the students who are training to certify as joint terminal attack controllers, as the missions provide some of the most realistic close air support training available anywhere.
Yuma Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Support Laboratory
The Yuma Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment Support Laboratory provides calibration and repair for instrumentation at Yuma Proving Ground. TMDE technicians are responsible for ensuring that adjustable equipment at the proving ground is tuned and aligned in accordance with detailed specifications. Maintaining calibration schedules ensures the effects of daily use don’t affect the accuracy of the equipment. TMDE technicians also determine when measurement equipment has matured beyond its useful life. The efforts of TMDE help to reduce costs and improve the accuracy and reliability of proving ground testing activities.