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Army Magazine >> Army Magazine Archive >> ARMY Magazine - December 2002 >> White Sands Missile Range Email this... Email    Print this Print

White Sands Missile Range

Within the vast high desert of south central New Mexico lies the Department of the Army’s largest piece of real estate, known as White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). As an element of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, it plays an important role in the defense acquisition process by providing quality test, evaluation, research, assessment and other technical services to acquisition programs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency, as well as some U.S. companies and foreign allies.

White Sands’ significant test attributes are its extensive land mass, 100 percent overland flight corridors, dedicated military airspace, off-range launch capabilities, advanced data collection, analysis and presentation capabilities and detailed post-test reporting.

With 3,200 square miles, WSMR is the largest military installation in the United States. The range boundaries extend almost 100 miles north to south and 40 miles east to west, making long missile flight corridors possible. Through agreements with surrounding landowners, an additional 2,400 square miles can be added for test purposes on a temporary basis for longer range scenarios. The missile range can also conduct off-range target missile launches from Fort Wingate, near Gallup, N.M. This provides a flight corridor of another 175 miles and allows for the very high trajectories required in some theater missile defense scenarios.

WSMR earned its testing stripes for earlier programs, such as the Nike Hercules, Hawk, and Pershing I and II. Today’s test customers include such wide-ranging Army programs as Patriot advanced capability 3 (PAC-3), variants of the Army tactical missile system and multiple launch rocket system, including tests of the brilliant anti-tank submunition and the high mobility artillery rocket system, the Stinger and tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

In 2002, PAC-3 testing was among the range’s highest visibility programs, with both developmental test (DT) and operational test (OT) missions taking place. These tests, all of which involved multiple missiles and multiple targets, exercised and proved WSMR’s ability to successfully fulfill an ever growing need to respond to complex scenarios.

Among other current testers are the Navy’s standard missile block 3-1, the Air Force airborne laser, the air-to-ground missile-86D conventional air-launched cruise missile, the Navy/Air Force joint air to surface standoff missile as well as the joint direct attack munition. In the foreign customer column, the Japanese Chu surface-to-air missile air defense system makes use of the missile range.

Found on this sprawling major range and test facility is a wide-ranging array of sophisticated data collection and analysis equipment, including radar, telemetry, optics and computers, all interlinked through a extensive network of fiber optic rings and microwave relays. Because of this extensive instrumentation and data collection capability, post-test reports are quickly given to the customer.

A standout among WSMR assets is the Cox Range Control Center. Starting in 2003, all test operations will be conducted out of this new facility. This unique $28-plus million control center is designed to meet current and future mission requirements with the latest networking, computing and communications for effective interface between test operations and customers.

White Sands’ capabilities extend to both outdoor and indoor laboratories where items can be exposed to electromagnetic pulse, lightning or extreme temperatures. Entire systems or components can also be exposed to rigorous dust, wind or fungus and other phenomenon. Shock and vibration facilities that duplicate typical life-cycle environments are also available.

In 2003, dynamic test capabilities will include a 50,000-pound force shaker, allowing for analysis of larger and heavier test items.

Nondestructive testing includes metallurigical inspections to assess corrosion prevention and control, as well as health hazards assessment.

Explosive testing capabilities include facilities for safety tests such as fire, drop, bullet impact and sympathetic detonation.

Another unique White Sands asset is the aerial cable test range, which has a three-mile long kevlar cable strung between two mountain ranges. Large targets can be suspended and rocket-propelled down the cable. In addition, drop tests can be conducted from the cable. In 2002, tests of the Air Force’s large aircraft infrared countermeasure system and electronic verification and demonstration system were performed, consisting of development and testing of various sensors.

The White Sands technical team is continually developing the next generation of technology to support testers into the future. Efforts include the movement toward total digital imaging.

A transportable range augmentation and control system has recently been developed for triservice use. It is a self-contained transportable system, which will support test mission planning/execution, real-time data collection and processing, mission control, flight safety and post-mission analysis.

White Sands has led the Army initiative to implement the use of the global positioning system at all Army test centers.

The WSMR GPS suite is the first transportable system in the Department of Defense. Housed in vans and trailers, including solar-powered link stations to ensure full range coverage, it has been fielded with a powerful display and virtual-reality presentation capability.

It is transportable systems such as these that allow White Sands to transfer its capabilities. In 2002, White Sands personnel supported PAC-3 testing at Reagan Missile Range on Kwajalein Atoll.

WSMR is also participating in the team concept support of Missile Defense Agency testing in the Pacific. The first test to use this concept will be the strategic long-range target launch from Kodiak, Alaska, in August 2003. The team consists of the Naval Air Weapons Center, Vandenburg Air Force Base, the Strategic Missile Defense Command, Reagan Test Range and the Pacific Missile Range Facility with contracted support from Alaska Aerospace in Kodiak.