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U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing vital to Army’s modernization priorities

U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground testing vital to Army’s modernization priorities

Story by Mark Schauer on 03/12/2019

YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.– U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is hot in more ways than one.

The proving ground actively supports six of the Army Futures Command’s Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) building the Army’s future force, which seeks to retain overmatch with near-peer adversaries in a high intensity conflict while maintaining the competency in waging irregular warfare that has been achieved since the 9/11 attacks.

“It’s a unique perspective that we have here to have visibility on virtually all future Army programs,” said Col. Ross Poppenberger, YPG Commander. “All of the Army’s future initiatives are coming through YPG in one form or another. We have the technical capability and the capacity to support their needs.”

“Over the past 15 years, we’ve been fighting on two fronts: Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby of the Army Futures Command. “Our current and potential near-peer adversaries have been modernizing their forces. We have to take the lead on modernization with concepts and capabilities so we can put the best equipment in the Soldiers’ hands to deploy, fight, and win our nation’s wars, wherever they may be.”

Heavily interested in supporting multi-domain operations in support of other service branches, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper described the effort as part of the “Army Renaissance” that is currently in progress in comments during a recent visit to the proving ground.

“Yuma is essential to that because we will need to test all of that equipment and make sure that it meets the needs of our Warfighters and ensure we are successful on the future battlefield,” Esper said.

Esper also stressed that YPG’s role as independent arbiters of new materiel’s performance ensures that the Army gets value for its money.

“Yuma is also providing an important role in terms of being good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars,” said Esper. “We invest a lot of money into modernizing our force and want to be sure we get what we pay for.”

The highest profile test project in support of the CFTs relates to the Army’s top modernization priority: long range precision fires. The Army aspires to field systems capable of accurately firing at targets 100 kilometers away in the next four years, a dramatic increase over the 30 kilometers a currently-fielded 155mm howitzer shell is capable of when fired at top zone with rocket assistance. YPG testing has already achieved significantly increased distances in test fires conducted at both the proving ground and the nearby Barry M. Goldwater Range.

The effort is called Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA), and YPG conducts developmental testing of multiple facets of it, from the artillery shells to the longer cannon tube and larger firing chamber the improved howitzer will need to accommodate them. YPG’s ammunition plant has been instrumental in building multiple experimental formulations, shapes, and configurations for new propelling charges to accommodate the improved projectiles. Upon completion, the new systems will be integrated into both towed and self-propelled howitzers.

“It’s not a baby step, it is a big leap,” said Steve Flores, Artillery and Mines Branch chief. “It’s a soup-to-nuts redesign of the artillery system. You’ll end up with a new cannon, a new platform, new ammunition, a new rocket motor, and a new breach.”

In addition to multiple test fires at the proving ground, YPG personnel have conducted three test fires at the Barry M. Goldwater Range, a larger facility south of the proving ground that is shared by the Marine Corps and Air Force and primarily used for operational training with high-performance aircraft. The fires were carried off flawlessly, but setting up the temporary gun position was challenging. The test personnel had to transport and emplace numerous pieces of large, specialized, and expensive test-support equipment to the site, then quickly take it down and return it to the proving ground, a multi-day effort. YPG leaders are confident, however, that the Goldwater Range can accommodate the long range munitions’ safety fan requirements in the few test shots annually that require firing the munitions to achieve their maximum range.

YPG has distinguished itself with vehicle testing for decades. From evaluations of generations of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank to rapid fielding initiatives of the multiple variants of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during the worst days of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, literally thousands of American Soldiers are alive today thanks to developmental testing at YPG. The Stryker and Bradley Combat Vehicles are other venerable platforms that have been tested repeatedly at YPG over the years, and the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the successor to the High Mobility Multipurpose Vehicle, was fielded to its first two Army and Marine Corps posts in January after years of developmental testing at YPG.

The Armored Multipurpose Vehicle, successor to the Vietnam-era M113, is currently undergoing testing at YPG, and other CFT programs like the next generation main battle tank will likely make appearances here in the next several years.

By the time an airframe comes to YPG, it has proven it can fly. Once here, it needs to prove its airworthiness once weapons systems and sensors are integrated into the platform. As such, YPG’s aviation testers are already preparing for the appearance of the Future Vertical Lift unmanned aircraft.

“It will have longer duration flight, higher altitudes, and more weapons capacity or payload capability,” said Ross Gwynn, Aviation Systems and Electronic Test Division chief. “One way or another, we will see a lot of work because of that initiative.”

Like all systems that could someday operate in warfare against near-peer adversaries, YPG’s engineers are considering ways to create new robust and accurate means of navigation in a battle zone where the Global Positioning Satellite system has been tampered with. YPG’s institutional expertise in geodetics and ability to simulate various electromagnetic environments means it has the infrastructure to rapidly and seamlessly support this sort of testing.

“All of the CFTs will have to be able to operate in that environment,” said Gwynn. “If there’s degraded navigation, our systems can’t be reliant on traditional ways of understanding where we are at in space. At YPG, we will always be able to test it, coordinate it, get the authorizations to test it, and provide the environment for any system to be tested. We have a huge history in the development of GPS, so it makes sense that we will be involved in the work.”

For their part, the high-level visitors visiting the proving ground have been impressed by YPG’s efforts.

“The work that is happening here at Yuma by our military and a large cadre of civilians is critical to our nation’s security,” Esper said. “It is important because we want to make sure we deploy weapons that work as we expect them to, that deliver to the Soldiers what they need and when they need it.”

“YPG has a lot to offer,” added Crosby. “The engineers are phenomenal: they understand the modernization process and where we are trying to go as a command nested with the six modernization priorities. It was very refreshing to see the energy and enthusiasm they bring to testing.”

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