Given that the Yuma area is home to U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range (BMGR), the potential for military-related noise in the region is high.
Usually, though, when such noise is heard in populated areas, YPG is not the source of the sound.
The immense size of YPG’s range space, larger in area than the state of Rhode Island, makes the proving ground an ideal place for testing long-range artillery shells. Last fiscal year, for example, saw nearly 400,000 total rounds fired at the proving ground. YPG is the epicenter of testing related to the Army’s top modernization priority: long range precision fires. The Army aspires to field systems capable of accurately firing at targets 100 kilometers away in the next few years, and YPG testing has already achieved significantly increased distances in test fires conducted at both the proving ground and, on several occasions, the nearby BMGR.
These artillery tests can take place at all hours of the day and night depending on the needs of the item under test: the high speed cameras testers use to capture crisp images of projectiles in flight have forward looking infrared (FLIR) capability, which allows images to be captured at night without artificial light.
Whatever time of day they occur, YPG’s isolation and natural terrain bowl of mountains surrounding it on three sides usually mute the sound of these test fires so far as people who live in Yuma County are concerned. Rarely, an atmospheric condition called an inversion, associated with upper level ridges, can create a ‘density barrier’ that reflects sound waves back to the ground and disperses them over wide areas. As such, people in locations far from the source of the sound might hear the muted crump of artillery fire during an inversion event.
YPG’s vast size also includes nearly 2,000 square miles of restricted airspace, with clear, stable air and an extremely dry climate where inclement weather is a rarity. All of these factors make the post highly coveted for aviation testing, and YPG’s specialty is helping to prove the airworthiness of a given airframe once weapons systems and sensors are integrated into it. YPG’s aviation personnel are testing some of the most cutting-edge platforms around—they have already hosted a demonstration related to the Future Vertical Lift, the next generation Army helicopter-- but none of YPG’s aviation testing ever causes a sonic boom.
“We don’t allow aircraft to break the sound barrier in our air space,” said Hugh Lottinger, range operations manager. “From a YPG standpoint, there is no reason at this point in time to do any type of supersonic flight here. We aren’t conducting that type of testing, so we have no reason for that to occur.”
Testing is YPG’s bread and butter, but the proving ground also hosts training activities for Soldiers, Marines, and even various civilian law enforcement agencies. However, these operations usually aren’t responsible for noise heard by the general public, either.
“If we support demolitions or artillery training, the sound generated would be equivalent to what is produced by test operations,” said Luis Arroyo, chief of the Training and Exercise Management Office. “The size and scope of training operations here is miniscule compared to the test operations. It is extremely unlikely that anyone in the City of Yuma or the Foothills will hear anything related to training operations at YPG.”
These and all other test and training activities at YPG are conducted in extremely remote locations that are far from any populated areas. Tests and training missions are all done in accordance with Army regulations that require surface danger zones to ensure that all possible hazards are contained within that zone.
Putting military equipment through punishing testing at YPG ensures it is safe and effective prior to the time when a Soldier or Marine’s life may depend on it. So far as the general public is concerned, this fact is orders of magnitude louder than the noise of our operations.
Mark Schauer is the public affairs officer at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground.