Once again, YPG Army's busiest test center
U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground was the Army's busiest test center for the third consecutive year.
The proving ground racked up nearly 2.3 million direct labor hours in fiscal year 2012, accounting for more than a fourth of the Army Test and Evaluation Command's total test workload. The feat was accomplished while scrupulously maintaining the safety and test quality standards for which the proving ground has long been renowned.
“YPG has a great workforce and environment,” said Lt. Col. Chad Harris, Yuma Test Center commander. “Our people are dedicated to the mission. Our customers get testing performed quickly and receive accurate reports. That is why they keep coming back.”
Though the total number of labor hours was down from its 2011 peak of nearly 2.8 million, it is virtually equivalent to the number posted in 2009, or about twice as high as the average year prior to the beginning of military operations in Southwest Asia early in the last decade. The proving ground also expanded its training operations, sometimes in connection with operational testing of equipment that underwent developmental testing here.
“We perform many tasks that consume capacity that we don't use a lot of direct labor hours on, but that are tremendously valuable to the Army,” said Col. Reed Young, YPG commander. “If you're talking about the overall value that YPG has to the Department of Defense, there are many ways other than direct labor hours to articulate it.”
Though the test vehicle mission has slowed from its dramatic ramp up during the wars in Southwest Asia, the Ground Combat directorate still boasts a robust workload accounting for about 60 percent of the proving ground's total labor hours.
“Our workload is down about 15 percent from the previous fiscal year, but it is still historically high and overall we are staying busy,” said Larry Bracamonte, Ground Combat director.
The directorate wrapped up a rapid testing initiative of the Stryker combat vehicle with a MRAP-inspired double-V hull early in the fiscal year, and was busy preparing for the comprehensive evaluation of the dramatically updated Paladin self-propelled howitzer. Radar systems such as the Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar and the TPQ-53 were also notable projects. Testing of the Excalibur guided munition continued, contributing to the Munitions and Weapons Division's workload increasing about 5 percent over the previous year.
In the new fiscal year, ground combat will continue production acceptance testing of every new M777 155mm lightweight howitzer, M119A2 105mm howitzer, and individual lots of mortar and artillery rounds. On the vehicle side of the house, the return of the Joint Lightweight Tactical Vehicle for further testing is expected to be a large driver of workload.
“YPG is vital to the nation and there will always be a need for test,” said Bracamonte. “Customers always tell me they come back here because of our responsiveness and flexibility. That reflects very positively on the YPG workforce. Everyone here wants to achieve the goal of getting the best equipment possible to Soldiers.”
Air combat testing makes up about a third of YPG's total workload under the new organizational structure that absorbed the former National Counterterrorism Counterinsurgency Integrated Test and Evaluation Center (NACCITEC) along with some workload formerly conducted by the Electronic Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. Despite the restructuring, YPG remains the premier test center for testing electronic warfare and counter-IED technology, boasting infrastructure and expertise not available elsewhere.
“Electronic warfare work for the counter-improvised explosive devices (IED) went down dramatically, which is why we merged that work into Air Combat to increase efficiencies,” said Grant Ware, Air Combat director. “Electronic warfare is a sustaining mission. It is important work and has a lot of requirements out there. At some point it could ramp back up.”
On a divisional basis, Ware said air delivery's workload increased compared to the previous fiscal year, while aviation's workload was down very slightly and sensor work grew fairly dramatically.
Last fiscal year the directorate wrapped up multi-year testing of the Block III Apache attack helicopter, and continued testing a variety of unmanned aircraft and sensors. Going forward, these are expected to remain significant growth areas. Personnel parachutes like the Advanced Ram Air Parachute System (ARAPS) and cargo parachutes like the Joint Precision Air Drop System (JPADS) will see an increased amount of testing. NASA will also continue testing relating to the parachute system of the Orion space capsule, though this testing is a small fraction of the directorate's overall workload. Ware predicts all divisions within the directorate except electronic warfare will see workload increases in the new fiscal year, which he credits in large part to the excellence of the directorate's workforce.
“We saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in workload for five years straight,” said Ware. “Much can be attributed to the war, but a lot of it was getting repeat and word-of-mouth business. We are more than just a range: our personnel try to address customer needs.”
CRTC and TRTC
The Cold Regions Test Center's workload dipped from the five year high it experienced in fiscal year 2011, but the test center was still busy conducting nine cold weather storage tests, as well as extensive evaluations of the M1A2 Abrams tank and the Load Handling System Compatible Water Tank Rack.
The Tropic Regions Test Center's labor hours, meanwhile, were about the same as the previous fiscal year. In addition to large-scale testing of three Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles in the South American nation of Suriname early in the fiscal year, tropic testers put an upgraded helmet through its paces in the jungles of Panama and continued various storage tests. The test center is also planning another major vehicle test in Suriname slated for late next year.
Though test budgets are expected to decline in coming years, YPG senior leaders are confident customers will continue to seek out the proving ground for its technical expertise, highly instrumented ranges, and customer-focused culture.
“There are programs that need to conduct environmental and developmental testing, and YPG is a great place to do it,” said Harris. “We have a great reputation both in the United States and among our partner nations. YPG's work is critical to the defense of the nation.”
“There is almost unlimited potential here in terms of what we can do,” added Young. “I'm confident that as long as we have the right mentality and maintain flexibility, modularity and adaptability, we are going to survive extremely well.”
Mark Schauer writes for The Outpost, the on-base newspaper at Yuma Proving Ground.