The U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) plans, integrates, and conducts experiments, developmental testing, independent operational testing, and independent evaluations and assessments to provide essential information to acquisition decision-makers and commanders.

On November 18, 1998, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army approved consolidation of developmental and operational testing. That decision led to the re-designation on October 1, 1999 of the Operational Test and Evaluation Command (OPTEC) to ATEC. Central to the consolidation was ATEC assuming overall responsibility for all Army developmental and operational testing. Under the consolidation, ATEC became responsible for management of White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

ATEC also took command of Aberdeen Test Center (ATC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Redstone Test Center (RTC) at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, Electronic Proving Ground (EPG) at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Cold Regions Test Center (CRTC) at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, and the Tropic Regions Test Center (TRTC), headquartered at Yuma Proving Ground with testing in Hawaii and other locations.

ATEC’s 9,000 military, civilian, and contract employees are test officers, engineers, scientists, technicians, researchers, and evaluators involved in more than 1,100 tests daily. ATEC rigorously tests items of every description, from individual weapons to the National Missile Defense ground-based, mid-course defense systems.

Aberdeen Proving Ground

Using a single laser beam, Army researchers at APG developed a technique capable of detecting and characterizing any type of airborne particles including naturally occurring (dust, smoke, pollen, ash) or those harmful and deliberately disseminated such as chemical and biological warfare agents.

If a soldier uses a piece of technology for protection, intelligence, to shoot, to move, or to communicate, chances are it was developed, tested, and fielded by an Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) organization.

APG was established in 1917 as an answer to an immediate need for national defense. As a result of entering World War I in April 1917, the Army urgently required a new site for testing war munitions. The search landed on an area along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay near the city of Aberdeen, MD. When World War I ended in November of that same year, APG’s peacetime mission shifted to emphasize research and development of munitions including testing of powders, projectiles, and bombs and the study of interior and exterior ballistics.

APG facilities conduct research and experimentation in ballistics and fire control as well as automotive and armor testing activities. In addition, APG’s technological contributions include the world’s first digital computer (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator or ENIAC), the first man-portable antitank weapons system (the Bazooka), and the first system-wide practical applications of Statistical Quality Control. APG also contributed to the testing of NASA’s Lunar Roving Vehicle used in the Apollo missions in the early 70s.

Today, APG is recognized as one of the world’s most important research, development, testing, and evaluation facilities for military weapons and equipment, and supports military and civilian scientists, research engineers, technicians, and administrators. APG continues to provide comprehensive test and training, both real and simulated; provides expert knowledge and technical services including instrumentation application, facility operations, manufacturing, and fabrication; exploits emerging technologies; and develops leading-edge instrumentation and test methodologies.

From the earliest concepts of a requirement, through research and on into development and proofing, APG no longer devotes its attention exclusively to ordnance items but tests and proofs all Army materials.

White Sands Missile Range

White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) has a wide range of testing capabilities to support small and large customer requirements. The Range possesses extensive capabilities utilized by the Army, Navy, Air Force, NASA, universities, private industries, and foreign militaries.

Testing services include:

Nuclear/electromagnetic environmental testing. With the capabilities to simulate from a nuclear blast to lighting effects to freezing rain, WSMR has many testing capabilities including electrostatic discharge tests, electromagnetic pulse testing, electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic radiation testing, and lightning testing.

The Army’s M50 gas mask was tested at Dugway Proving Ground to determine its effectiveness against a single decontaminant for chemical and biological agents. The Simulant Agent Resistance Test Manikin (SMARTMAN) test fixture — a replicated human head, complete with breathing through the mouth — was used for the tests.

Sensor testing. Sensors tested include radar and radio frequency, lasers, optical and electro-optical, infrared, seismic, and acoustic. The bulk of sensor testing occurs in an open-air test range that exposes the sensor to a real-world environment, facilitating full system performance testing. Additionally, WSMR has supplementary laboratory environments for certain types of sensors testing.

Weapons testing. Although WSMR is the nation’s principal location for missile testing, capabilities support a wide range of weapons such as directed energy, which includes narrowband, wideband, and ultra-wideband microwave directed energy. The Pulsed Laser Vulnerability Test System is used to test electro-optical/infrared tactical weapons systems.

Since the opening of the Range in 1945, WSMR has performed various tests on the effects, in flight behavior, and durability of missiles and rockets. Uniquely within the DoD, the Range controls a vast airspace across the range and beyond and maintains multiple impact sites, making it ideal for testing. Services include rocket launching, rocket motor testing, flight termination testing, and propulsion systems.

The Range’s extensive size, numerous impact areas, and variety of targets allow for the testing of long-range artillery, Naval guns, and mortars including weapons shock testing, environmental testing, thermal and night vision testing, laser range finders, optical sensors, and bombs.

Space. WSMR has an extensive history of rocket, missile, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and space vehicle testing including testing and evaluation efforts for Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and Orion crew exploration vehicle projects.

System of systems. WSMR provides an array of test capabilities enabling system of systems testing in three categories: a large, reconfigurable range with abundant airspace; varying terrain with threat representative targets and environments; and collaborative systems and networks so the system of systems environment can be set up at low cost.

Counter-IED. The Range provides advanced Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) test environments and infrastructure to assess systems and technology capabilities and limitations in response to emerging threats and tactical environments.

Aerial targets. An array of targets is available for both threat and target presentation to systems under test. Unmanned targets are suitable for both sensor and live weapon system tests; manned targets and operational UAVs are suitable for sensor and other nondestructive tests.

Army air. Army Air flight crews provide aircraft test support. Structures, avionics, and quality assurance technicians interface project electrical and structural components with aircraft systems. Special equipment and components can be mounted both internally and externally to meet customer requirements.

Yuma Proving Ground

Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) plans, conducts, assesses, analyzes, reports, and supports developmental tests, production tests, and integrated developmental and operational tests. It is a multi-purpose center that tests artillery, armored vehicles, armored systems, and air delivery systems. The Cibola Range supports testing of aviation systems and munitions, armed helicopters, air delivery systems, unmanned aircraft, and precision navigation systems.

Yuma Proving Ground’s testing of unmanned aerial systems dates back to the late 1950s when the first hangar was constructed to support a drone competition. With eight launching sites and nearly 2,000 miles of restricted airspace, YPG is as close to an ideal venue for unmanned aircraft testing as can possibly exist. YPG has conducted extensive testing and weaponization on such diverse platforms as the Predator and the Fire Scout.

Scientists developed nanomaterials to help understand the mechanism of brain injuries when soldiers are exposed to blast conditions. They developed a gel substance with fluorescent properties that mimics the texture and mass of the human brain to test the scale of damage soldiers encounter.

Beginning in the mid 1970s, all developmental work on the Global Positioning System (GPS), which has both military and civilian applications, took place at YPG. The GPS testing involved three flights a day for more than ten years following the completion of significant upgrades to range instrumentation.

More than 240 miles of automotive test courses and other facilities capable of handling nearly all types of field performance and controlled engineering tests have been established at YPG. These include paved inclines, side slopes, obstacles, a skid pad for dry and wet pavement handling, calibrated ride and handling courses, various material mud courses with adjustable moisture content, and a Middle East cross-country course. These courses furnish variations in road, terrain, and soil conditions, offering test engineers the ability to select any degree of severity desired for endurance and reliability or desert environmental testing.

YPG partnered with General Motors (GM) in 2007 to upgrade their track. The deal resulted in the construction of paved and unpaved courses used by GM for hot weather testing of commercial vehicles, and the Army for military vehicles. GM’s Desert Proving Ground opened at YPG in 2009 and today tests virtually all vehicles manufactured by GM.

Major initiatives are being carried out today to test the Army’s newly developed extended-range cannons that can accurately fire twice the distance of current artillery, and counter-unmanned aircraft technologies. The areas of cargo and personnel parachute technologies and the testing of unmanned aircraft, in particular, continue to grow each year.

At APG, engineers flight-tested 3D-printed unmanned aircraft created with an on-demand system that provides soldiers in the field with rapid unmanned aerial vehicle support.

Dugway Proving Ground

Dugway Proving Ground is the nation’s leading test center for chemical and biological defense, conducting testing and support to enable the military, inter-agency partners, and allies to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and explosives hazards.

Electronic Proving Ground

The Electronic Proving Ground is the Army’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, and Intelligence (C5I) developmental tester. The name was derived from the mission: to test, prove, explore, and evaluate systems and devices utilizing the electron — a simple descriptive name embracing its primary function as the Army’s proving ground for testing and evaluating communications-electronics equipment and systems.

More Information

Military, contractors, and civilian personnel contribute to patent development for technology that, with the right connections and resources, could be commercialized for public use. For information on testing facilities, technologies, and other capabilities, visit here . For Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Defense Technology Commercialization (DefTech) Center is an initiative of the Maryland Department of Commerce funded by the Department of Defense to facilitate access to product development resources, help in licensing technology, and connect to other resources for help with commercialization. Visit here .


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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