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Barry M. Goldwater Range

The Barry M. Goldwater Range is operated by the 56th Fighter Wing Range Management Office, Airspace and Range Operations office. The Barry M. Goldwater Range (formerly the Luke Air Force Range) is located in southwest Arizona. It serves the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Marine Corps as an armament and high-hazard testing area; a training area for aerial gunnery, rocketry, electronic warfare, and tactical maneuvering and air support; and a place to develop equipment and tactics. It also serves other defense-related purposes. The Goldwater Range has generally served these and similar purposes since 1941, when it was established to train U.S. Army Air Corps pilots for World War II. Changing capabilities have been significant: military aircraft in World War II could shoot down enemy aircraft from a distance of about 600 feet, while today's aircraft can engage and shoot down an enemy from as far as 25 miles.

About 95% of all fighter pilots in the Persian Gulf war trained on the BMGR. Notably, 50 percent of the F-16, most of the F-15, 100 percent of the F-15E, and 100 percent of the A/OA-10 aircrews that fought in the Gulf War were trained on the BMGR as students. Most of the F/A-18 and AV-8B aircrews from the Navy and Marine Corps were also trained on the BMGR.

The Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field provides all range operations and maintenance support for airspace blocks R-2301E, R-2304, and R-2305. It has an 8,500-foot runway that provides an alternative landing field for aircraft on the BMGR that experience in-flight emergencies or have hung ordnance that precludes their flying over populated areas. The proximity of the Auxiliary Field to BMGR sub-ranges has accounted for numerous aircraft "saves" over the years.

The range is the center point of a semicircular array of military air bases, airspace, and ranges that form a highly flexible training complex. It lies within the unrefueled flight radius of 12 Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air National Guard, and Army National Guard air bases in Arizona and southern California, as well as Navy aircraft carriers in the Pacific Ocean. This joint relationship delineates the increasingly unique significance of the BMGR as a national training asset. The BMGR is an ideal location for a training range. Arizona's year-round good weather results in less than 3% of planned and scheduled sorties being canceled due to weather. It consists of 2.7 million acres of relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert. Overhead are 57,000 cubic miles of airspace where fighter pilots practice air-to-air maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground. Its immense size allows for simultaneous training activities on the nine air-to-ground ranges and two air-to-air ranges. More than 50 aircrews and aircraft may be operating simultaneously on the range while performing many independent training operations.

The manned air-to-ground ranges have conventional and special weapons delivery targets. Range control officers are stationed in observation towers near the target to ensure range safety and to score the accuracy of a practice ordnance delivery. Some are scored on a hit or miss basis; others are scored electronically showing degrees of accuracy. The manned target complex consists of a combination of several target types: tactical strafe, strafe, bomb/rocket circle, and special weapons delivery. Each target is approached at different airspeeds, angles, and altitudes by the attack aircraft. All manned ranges have night operations capability for special weapons deliveries.

The land was originally set aside under a Presidential order, but was later the subject of a variety of orders and withdrawals, all of which were consolidated by the Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-606), which was due to expire in 2001. The nearly 2 million acre Range is cooperatively managed by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The management of the natural resources of the Range is the responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The lands are managed by BLM under a withdrawal that puts the military mission first and also precludes such uses as grazing and mining.

About 30% of DoD's 25 million acres of land are "Withdrawn" under Public Law 99-606, the Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1986. This law withdrew approximately 7 million acres of public domain lands for military use in six parcels: Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright, the Nellis Range, the Goldwater Range (Arizona), the Bravo 20 Range at Fallon Naval Air Station (Nevada), and the McGregor Range. These lands are relatively isolated and in regions with low population density. The withdrawal and reservation established by this Act terminated 15 years after the date of enactment of this Act. The Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal Year 2000 approved language extending the withdrawal for 25 years beginning November 6, 2001. On Tuesday, October 4, 1999, President Clinton signed the Defense Authorization Bill, which included the renewal of the Land Withdrawal from public use until 2024 (Military Lands Withdrawal Act of 1999 - Public Law 106-65). During that period, the two military departments (Air Force and Navy) have jurisdiction for the lands and interests in lands on the Range, and, for the withdrawal period after November 6, 2001, full responsibility for natural and cultural resource management. Natural and cultural resource management is to be carried out under the terms of an Integrated Natural Resources Plan (INRMP), prepared under the authority of the Sikes Act (16 USC 670) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 USC 4321 et seq). The Bureau of Land Management is a partner in the preparation of the INRMP, and will have a role in management of the Range throughout the withdrawal period.

This southwest Arizona military range is used by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps for aerial combat training (air-to-air and air-to-ground), as well as for land-based combat training operations. The Range is roughly 20 miles wide by 120 miles long, extending from Yuma to approximately 25 miles east of Gila Bend, Arizona, and from Interstate Highway 8 south to the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and/or the U.S./Mexican border.

The Barry M. Goldwater Range encompasses about 1.7 million acres of withdrawn public land and Department of Defense owned land. P.L. 106-65, however, significantly reduced its area by excluding the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (a part of the Range under previous withdrawals) from the withdrawal and providing for the eventual relinquishment of some parcels. When these parcels (totaling 112,179 acres) are relinquished, the Range will encompass about 1.6 million acres.

Before P.L. 106-65, the Marine Corps used the west side of the Range under a letter of agreement with the Department of the Air Force. Public Law 106-65 divided the Range into two reservations, the west side for the Department of the Navy for use by the Marine Corps, and the east side for the Air Force. But the four parcels remain under the withdrawal of P.L. 99-606. One of the groups of parcels to be relinquished-the Interstate 8 Vicinity parcels-lies partially within each side but is entirely managed by the Air Force because it is withdrawn under P.L. 99-606. This law reserved the entire Range for the Air Force.

The east side of the Range serves mainly as an Air Force air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training site. The main user and range manager, the 56 th Fighter Wing, is located at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The 56th Fighter Wing trains F-16 pilots for the Air Force and for other nations. Also using the east side are the A-10 Warthog units from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base at Tucson, Arizona, and the Army National Guard, flying helicopters out of the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site at Marana, Arizona. When the east side is not being used by the Arizona units, other military units use it as "tenants." Many of these units use the airspace over the west side as well. This use is training in one form or another, most of which is aerial. Compared to the Range's west side, very little on-the-ground activity occurs on the east side. On the east side are several target areas (manned ranges and high-explosive hills), the cleanup of unexploded ordnance, and range site maintenance and operation.

The west side of the Range serves mainly as a Marine Corps training site. The main user group is at the Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona. In addition, Navy and Marine units from all over the West and from aircraft carriers in the Pacific also use the west side. Much of the activity on the west side is ground based although both Navy and Marine jet aircraft and helicopters use the airspace.

The Range harbors one of the largest and finest remaining tracts of predominantly wild Sonoran Desert. At the eastern extreme of the Range, the Sand Tank Mountains rise to over 4,000 feet above sea level and receive enough rainfall to support isolated communities of chaparral vegetation. The western end of the Range is 130 miles away, is less than 200 feet above sea level, and is one of the driest locations in North America. Lying between these two extremes are 20 distinct mountain ranges separated by broad valley with over 275 varieties of plants, 56 species of mammals, over 150 species of birds, 5 amphibian species, and 44 species of reptiles.

Access to the Range is strictly controlled to protect the military mission, reduce impacts, and prevent accidents. Visitors requiring access need to contact Range Operations in Gila Bend. A special permit is needed to visit this area in southwestern Arizona. If you like solitude, rugged desert hiking and camping, this is a great place. A four-wheel drive vehicle is required to visit. It is withdrawn public land, currently deemed most-suited to use by the Department of Defense as a Military Reservation. There are many entities concerned with managing the Range. A working group called the Partners Working Group meets several times a year to address Range issues.

The Goldwater Range Measurement and Debriefing System (GRMDS) provides the capability to train air combat crews in state-of-the-art air combat maneuvering (ACM) and no-drop weapon scoring (NDWS) in a free-play environment minimally constrained by the training instrumentation.

World War II exploded Phoenix into a military encampment. The mild climate and vast tracts of uninhabited and undeveloped lands were tailor-made for many types of military training. Almost overnight, Phoenix became a center for military activities and the agricultural and resort town of 65,000 residents shuddered under the onslaught of tens of thousands of soldiers sent to Arizona for training.

In addition to the soldiers stationed at desert training camps,, thousands of fliers trained in the clear, desert skies of central and southern Arizona. Private contract flying schools began primary flight training at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport in 1939, Thunderbird Field in Glendale in 1940, Falcon Field in Mesa in 1941, and Thunderbird Field II north of Scottsdale in 1942. The Army Air Force contracted with Del Webb to build Luke Field in 1941, and Williams Field in 1942.

In 1941, when Lieutenant Colonel Ennis Whitehead first surveyed the land for Luke Field, he also saw that the public lands south and west of Gila Bend could be used as an aerial gunnery and bombing range. The range was initially established in September 1941 and divided into eastern and western segments comprising 1.1 million acres. The western segment was identified as the Yuma Aerial and Gunnery and Bombing Range, while the eastern segment became the Gila Bend Gunnery Range, later known as the Ajo-Gila Bend Gunnery Ranges. The entire range was expanded during World War II by the progressive additions of six separate parcels until it totaled nearly 2.1 million acres by 1943. Executive orders and public land orders issued during President Franklin Roosevelt's administration were used to create the range by administratively withdrawing public lands and reserving them for use by the War Department as an aviation training area.

Cadets came to Williams Field for basic flight training, and then to Luke for advanced flight training in single engine aircraft. During the years of World War II, more than 17,000 pilots trained at Luke Field, making it the largest single engine advanced flying training school in the U.S. More than a million hours of flying were logged, primarily in the AT-6 Texan, along with some transitioning to P-40 fighters and later the P-51 Mustang and other aircraft.

Although continually modified during the war years, the course of advanced flight training at Luke averaged about 10 weeks and included both flight training and ground school. Approximately 60 hours of flying instruction covered formation flying, navigation, and instrument flying, as well as a bit of aerial acrobatics. About 20 additional hours of flight practice concentrated on aerial and gunnery training. P-51 fighter training in late WW II

Ground school, or classroom training for the advanced flying course, varied from about 100 to 130 hours and was intermingled with flight time in the aircraft. Cadets flew in the morning and attended ground school in the afternoons, or flew training missions in the afternoon after a morning of ground school. At the peak of the training program at Luke, some students were required to attend night classes. Ground school included instruction in navigation, flight planing, radio equipment, maintenance, and weather. The emphasis on gunnery training increased over time, as described by Jean Provence, historian of the 3600th Flying Training Wing in her 1954 history of Luke AFB:

At the beginning, gunnery planes operated from Luke Field going to and from the Gila Bend Gunnery Range daily, leaving forty-five minutes after daylight and returning thirty minutes before dark. The first gunnery training was completed in one day, and consisted of no more than giving the student an opportunity to fire his machine guns while his aircraft was airborne. Gradually the period of training was lengthened to three days, then six days and finally two weeks.

A veteran British Royal Air Force pilot, Wing Commander E.M. Donaldson, used his combat experience at the Battle of Britain to improve gunnery training during the spring and summer of 1942. In his 1942 report, Donaldson enthused about the range, saying, "No other school in the states can boast such a setup." Donaldson initiated the: construction of dummy ranges for dry runs, the employment of the gun camera, the supervision of aerial gunnery missions by an instructor from an extra aircraft, and the allotment of permanent and specialized gunnery instructors.... On 24 September 1942 two weeks of gunnery was made part of the Advanced Flying Training given at Luke Field and was conducted at the Gila Bend Gunnery Range from either Ajo or the Gila Bend Army Air Fields (Provence, 1954).

Six auxiliary air fields were constructed in 1941-1942, each to a standard triangular configuration of three runways approximately 150 feet wide and 3,700 feet long. This configuration allowed the fields to be used under almost all wind conditions. Aprons were appended to one side of the runway triangles for parking aircraft. By 1944 student pilots from bases at Yuma and Kingman, as well as Las Vegas and Victorville, California, were being sent to Ajo and Gila Bend for gunnery training. The Chinese government also sent pilots to the United States for training, and some of them went through the advance flying school and gunnery training at Luke.

After several administrative deletions and additions to the range following World War II, the Goldwater Range reached its present size of 2,664,423 acres in 1962. These additions were required because the old World War II ranges were too small and close together to accommodate jet fighter aircraft. From 1946 - 1951 when Luke was closed, it was renamed the Williams Bombing and Gunnery Range. After Luke was reactivated and took over management of both the east and west components, the range was redesignated in 1963 as Luke Air Force Range, although the Marine Corps and Navy used the western side of the range for their training operations.

Significant improvements were made to the range over the years. From 1952 to 1956, five air-to-ground gunnery ranges were improved, a tactical range was developed, and airspace above the complex was reserved for an air-to-air range. US Army ground liaison officers contributed to the improvement of tactical target scenarios. The Coronet Real project of 1975-1976 modified the tactical ranges for theater-specific scenarios: Europe, Middle east, and Asia. Improvements included acquiring realistic targets, such as obsolete tanks and trucks. The completed tactical improvements significantly enhanced realism for pilots in air-to-ground ordnance delivery.

As of mid-January 2002, about 150 sea-land transport containers had been added on three tactical ranges to create new target arrays. The containers, inexpensive, durable structures that are stacked like blocks and used to create three dimensional industrial complexes, are used to make relatively full-scale mock-ups of built-up areas. They are spot welded so one container will not slide off the other easily, even if hit directly. The durability of the containers allows pilots to strafe them, drop heavy weights, inert bombs and other practice ordnance. Other than live ordnance, pilots can drop any type of training munitions on them.

Joint modular ground targets had also been added. They are full-scale mock-ups of enemy weapons systems such as SAMS, tanks, anti-aircraft artillery and Scuds that add realism to the whole scenario because they are replicas of specific threats. The modular targets snap together like giant building blocks and are easy to place and remove, and weather better than plywood targets. The targets are environmentally friendly as well because the lighter metals are easily recycled and no fluid purging is required as when using retired vehicles as targets.

Various types of jet fighters trained on the range over the years. The supersonic F-100 replaced the subsonic F-84; the F-4 and A-7 later replaced the F-100, while the F-5 and F-104 were introduced for foreign pilot training. The F-15 was used from 1974 to 1993, and the F-16 replaced the F-4 in 1983.

Public Law 99-606, passed by Congress in 1986, renewed the range for a 15-year period by withdrawing and reserving all of the various parcels of the range in one legal instrument. It also renamed the range in honor of Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who had served as director of ground training at Luke during part of World War II.

About one-third of the land area included in the Goldwater Range (822,000 acres) was set aside in 1939 by President Roosevelt as part of the 861,000-acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge (formerly known as the Cabeza Prieta Game Range). Although more than 95 percent of the wildlife refuge is within the Goldwater Range, military activities in the Cabeza Prieta portion are limited to four remotely located radio transmitters and flight training operations in the overlying airspace. Jurisdiction for all lands within the Refuge is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service.


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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:48:42 ZULU