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The Decatur Daily May 26, 2005

Pentagon's high marks may aid Dugway

Report to BRAC touting facility may keep it intact

Leigh Dethman

Nobody really knows everything that happens at Dugway Proving Ground.

The military base in Utah's west desert where defenses against deadly biological and chemical weapons are tested is a constant target of rumors and speculation.

But one thing is certain — Dugway's mission is valuable to the Department of Defense.

The facility received top rankings from the Pentagon in a report released to the Base Realignment and Closure commission.

"This is a sign that somebody is finally paying attention that they do great things out there," said Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance.

Somebody wasn't paying attention in BRAC 1995, Mayfield said. At the time, the Army admitted it used incorrect data in deciding to recommend a Dugway realignment.

The Army wanted to move elements of Dugway's chemical and biological defense range testing mission and the entire smoke and obscurant test missions to Arizona. The BRAC commission later decided to keep Dugway intact.

If the BRAC commission follows the Pentagon's recommendations this year, Dugway will stay that way for a long time.

Dugway isn't even mentioned in the Pentagon's recent recommendations for closure or realignment.

In fact, the facility is in expansion mode. The Army wants to annex the nearby Dugway mountains to the south, in part to block the "prying eyes" of UFO hunters, said Steve Petersen, counsel to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Dugway's primary mission is to test chemical and biological defense systems. The facility also performs nuclear, biological and chemical survivability testing on defense gear.

They're pretty good at it, too. The Pentagon ranked Dugway first in military value for chemical and biological defense testing and evaluation out of 39 bases.

At the Melvin Bushnell Materiel Test Facility, workers test large-scale military vehicles and equipment in hazardous environments. The facility helped Dugway achieve a No. 3 ranking out of 27 Department of Defense installations in ground vehicle testing and evaluation.

Other rankings notch Dugway at sixth in biomedical testing and evaluation out of 19 bases, eighth in weapons technology testing and evaluation out of 70 bases, and eighth in materials and processes testing and evaluation out of 44 bases.

"They do some very specialized things that nobody else is going to do," Mayfield. "To us, one of the important things is to look at opportunities for the future at Dugway."

Utah's congressional delegation believes Dugway's mission will increase dramatically, but that it will be funded through the Department of Homeland Security.

"As we transform our post-Cold War armed forces to fight the new global threats we face today, including terrorism, Dugway is uniquely situated to play an ever-expanding role," Bishop said. "The areas where Dugway is ranked highly represent an incredible cross-section of training and testing capacity.

"It's rare to have a place that can do so many different things so well. While some installations face dwindling missions and limited capabilities, Dugway is well-positioned to continue to grow and diversify."

John Pike, a defense analyst with GlobalSecurity.org, said Dugway could play a critical role in developing chemical weapons defenses, especially at a time when other countries like Iran and North Korea are developing chemical weapons.

"To the extent that one is worried about the evildoers using chemical weapons, obviously Dugway has considerable expertise in this field," he said.

Copyright 2005, Deseret News Publishing Company