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Protecting troops from deadly fire
In the earliest days of the insurgency in Iraq, American forces came under frequent attacks that utilized the humble, easily transported mortar.
To defend against this threat, the Army assembled the Counter Rocket Artillery Mortar system consisting of the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar and the AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar to detect incoming rounds, and the Land-based Phalanx Weapon System that spits out bursts of fire at hostile projectiles. Thanks to rapid testing at YPG in the early days of the Iraq War, the system was deployed to Iraq in 2005, dramatically reducing mortar and other indirect fire attacks.
Though their use has diminished, insurgents continue to attack soldiers and civilians alike with mortars, and C-RAM testing continues. For a recent limited user test at YPG, soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., used the C-RAM system in an environment that closely simulated that found in theater. During the month-long test, the soldiers, fresh from training on the system at Fort Sill, Okla., resided in the proving ground’s Forward Operating Base, commuting back and forth to the gun position that hosted testing. Meanwhile, YPG weapons operators had the daily task of firing rounds that the C-RAM intercepted.
“It took a great deal of planning,” said Ana Soto, counterfire team lead. “We had to make sure the test matrix was correct and worked very closely with the Operational Test Command folks to ensure everything was planned properly and safely. We’ve never tested these systems with soldiers operating them, so there were a lot of things to consider.”
There was also the major challenge of supporting the test during the eight hour per week furlough imposed this summer on all Department of Defense civilian employees as a result of budget sequestration. Four YPG test officers were assigned to the LUT to accommodate the one furlough day per week each had to take. As evidence of its high importance, personnel supporting the test were given an exceptionally rare waiver that permitted them to work overtime.
“We were authorized to work overtime on non-furlough days,” said Jonny Clark, test officer. “This testing could not be accomplished in 32 hours per week. There is no way we could give them the support they needed otherwise: the test would never get done.”
To ensure accurate and valid test results, the soldiers who were firing the system also set it up in the same manner they would in theater, a painstaking and time-consuming task.
“It depends on whether the gun gods like us or not,” said Spc. Tim Hove, one of the soldiers participating in the LUT. “Sometimes it can be real fast, other times it can take forever. It depends on any number of things.”
As it was, the soldiers and test personnel were subjected to an arid, triple-digit-temperature southwestern desert summer.
“It’s pretty hot out here,” said Hove. “Yesterday I was out here and thought, ‘why?’”
Despite the heat and hardships, testers felt the soldiers adapted well to the deviation from their normal chain of command and dozens of test personnel scrutinizing their operations.
“The soldiers have really stepped up,” said Maj. Matthew Jacobs, deputy test officer for the Operational Test Command. “They know their mission is to show big Army how this system will work and that soldiers can operate it in a field environment. They understand that in order to accomplish that mission they have to work in conjunction with the data collectors and test team personnel.”
C-RAM testing should continue at YPG into the forseeable future, particularly given the proving ground’s lengthy experience with testing the item.
“YPG is a great place to test,” said Jacobs. “The environment is right, all the infrastructure is here, and the support from the YPG staff is top notch. From a testing standpoint, this is a great place to come do it.”
Mark Schauer writes for The Outpost, the newspaper at Yuma Proving Ground.