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Yuma Proving Ground Working Hard to Help Defeat Threat from Explosive Devices

Apr 02, 2007
BY Mike Cast

Testers at Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) in southwestern Arizona are working hard to help the Department of Defense thwart the lethal threats posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and more recently in Afghanistan. Testers at YPG, a Developmental Test Command (DTC) installation, have been working six days a week, up to 14 hours a day, to test systems on a tight schedule and provide quick-turnaround test reports to military program managers responsible for system development. As the use of makeshift bombs emerged as one of the gravest threats to U.S. forces, their coalition allies, local police, and hapless civilians caught up in the war between coalition forces and insurgents, YPG has become one of the U.S. military's premier centers for testing counter-IED systems.

The Army established the Combating Terrorism Technology Task Force (CTTTF) in 2003 to tackle the problem. The Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) came into being in July 2004, reflecting the joint-service approach to the issue. The task force turned to YPG to urge construction of an urban environment for testing counter-IED technologies in the fall of 2003, and YPG soon began planning the construction of its urban-terrain test sites, with the aim of creating facilities and buildings that mirror conditions in Iraq. Construction of YPG's first urban-terrain area for testing counter-IED systems began in December 2003, and this test complex came to be known as the Joint Experimentation Range Complex , or JERC, because the testing taking place there included systems under development for the other U.S. military services as well as the Army.

YPG testers initially focused on testing unmanned aerial systems designed to counter the IED threat, said Scott Dellicker, in charge of the counter-IED test program at YPG . Reports from the field played a role in the design of the JERC site, added Ricky Douglas, another key member of YPG's test team who helped develop these test facilities.

"It was built off of reports from theater," Douglas said. "Basically, everything that killed an American, we tried to incorporate into this site. We replicated reports on the way the roads were, the way the streets were, the curbs, whatever. The different things the bad guy uses to kill Americans, that is what we (incorporated into the design), and as he changes, we change; no, we actually get ahead of him."

Reports from service members in Iraq have been critical to the success of the test program at YPG, as has intelligence information from other government agencies, Dellicker said. The Army Test and Evaluation Command's Forward Operational Assessment (FOA) team in theater provides essential feedback that supports the test mission at YPG, he said.

"There are features out there on the range that are recognizable," Dellicker added. "We've had several units come back and say, 'I saw that intersection.' Having our guys on the FOA team . . . has been an interesting expansion of DTC's normal role. We have been providing a lot of fielding support. We've set up a dedicated team to do that."

He said YPG and DTC's Electronic Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., have deployed testers to Iraq to support the FOA team in theater. YPG and DTC members of the FOA team interface with the operational staff responsible for fielding electronic-warfare systems and other counter-IED systems, he said, adding that they have identified a large number of test requirements.

"We've hired a dedicated intelligence analyst that goes through as many of the reports as he can get his hands on," Dellicker said, adding that YPG interfaces with various intelligence agencies to get the big picture on the range of IEDs used against U.S. and allied troops.

The JIEDDO, which oversees the development of counter-IED technologies across all military services, includes representatives from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. This organization also includes interagency and multinational representation. Along with program managers overseeing the development of counter-IED systems, the JIEDDO is the prime "customer" for the test programs and resulting test reports from YPG.

The pace of testing has picked up in the past couple of years, Dellicker said, noting that YPG employees have had to test a large array of systems. YPG's testers have faced not only an increased workload but also the challenge of rapidly conducting tests and completing test reports as quickly as possible for program managers, he added.

"The normal turn-around time for a test report is about 60 to 75 days from end of test," Dellicker said. "That's when we would submit it to DTC, within the 60-day time frame. But with these systems, because of the urgency obviously, people want answers now. So we adapted to provide reports a lot quicker. We brought in extra people and resources to do that. There is a set theater support team, and that stays consistent. The other teams are made up as test requirements are identified. We draw from the pools of test engineers, test directors, data analysts, a whole host of people. We draw from a pool and staff for the particular test."

ECIII, a defense contractor that provides a variety of support to the proving ground, has played a key role in staffing the new organization YPG established to handle the increasing workload, the National Counterterrorism/ Counterinsurgency Integrated Test and Evaluation Center, or NACCITEC. Its mission is not only to test new counter-IED technologies but also to provide a training environment that enables U.S. forces to defeat the threat through improved tactics, Dellicker said.

"A year ago staffing was at 28 - eight dedicated civilians and 20 dedicated contractors, "Dellicker said. "The most obvious challenge is finding people. ECIII has done a fantastic job in adapting their recruiting schemes to get the diverse skills that we need. They have been instrumental in doing that. Once you get past that, training is necessary. It takes six months to train test directors to where they can actually function and execute tests. So building up your workforce from 28 to about 170 or so within a year makes the training aspect critical."

Since 2004, his crew has tested some 350 to 360 systems. The intense operational tempo of this testing places stress on the diverse group of people responsible for NACCITEC's test programs.

"We worked over the holidays last year," Dellicker said. "We did give our guys Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. Other than that, they were out there working. We had New Year's Day off, which was a Sunday."

Despite working 14-hour days at the test so they can meet the urgent data requirements of system program managers, NACCITEC testers remain motivated and committed to what they do, he said.

"I'd say all of us are still motivated," said Ryan Ingham, an ECIII employee assigned to NACCITEC as a test coordinator and director. "All of us know what the cause is for and don't mind doing the hard work to accomplish that mission. We test a wide variety of items. It is constantly changing, and there are different devices, different technologies, different methods."

Before coming to work at YPG, Ingham was a Marine stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. Former and current service members are valuable members of the NACCITEC staff because of their military experience and motivation to keep men and women in uniform from being killed or maimed, Douglas said. He and Dellicker have considered hiring veterans injured by makeshift bombs during the war, to help them out as well as gain employees with firsthand experience of IEDs.

Since the creation of its first range complex to test counter-IED systems, YPG has constructed and upgraded diverse test facilities designed to challenge the array of evolving systems created by a thinking and adapting enemy. The proving ground's phased construction projects include enhancements at a second JERC site, scheduled for completion in the summer of 2007.

The intent is to have facilities in place that meet the counter-IED test protocols, or standards, of the Joint Test Board, a JIEDDO organization that coordinates test programs and interfaces with the NACCITEC.

"The key difference between JERC 1 and JERC 2 is the type of terrain," Dellicker explained. "JERC 1 is very, very flat, which is good for what we have been doing, but we lose the effects of the terrain. JERC 2 encompasses more terrain, with hills and different terrain characteristics to provide more challenges to systems. We learned some lessons doing testing on JERC 1, so when Ricky and his guys designed JERC 2, they incorporated those lessons and redesigned the road network to get some more efficiencies. JERC 2 is a component of what we call phase two. The phase one upgrade program, which was $9.3 million, roughly, really focused on upgrading JERC 1 - upgrading buildings, upgrading instrumentation, adding buildings, adding power, adding network, adding a couple of fixed buildings for our guys to operate out of, and putting in a mission-control facility. Phase two encompasses a larger set, including more construction, with increased capacity, to include JERC 2. The phase-two program is a $22 million upgrade program, $4.2 million of which is JERC 2. There are a lot of different components."

NACCITEC may need to play a key role in supporting the U.S. military into the future because the use of makeshift explosive devices in Iraq has been so widely publicized, Douglas said.

"Unless the United States defeats IEDs, you will be looking at IEDs in any other war we get into, no matter where it is at," he said.

"Today's IEDs won't be tomorrow's IEDs," Dellicker added.

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