WEST FORT HOOD, Texas -- Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley states readiness is the Army's number one priority.

"There are no other numbers ones," he said. "The Army must be ready to shape the global security environment and fight to win the Nation's wars."

That's where operational testing comes into play.

In the current fiscal environment, the Army is investing in critical capability gaps and conducting significant modernization and upgrades to existing major combat systems.

The U.S. Army Operational Test Command (OTC) at West Fort Hood is responsible for testing over 200 different acquisition and new equipment programs over the next three years -- a clear indication of the Army's investment in equipment modernization.

As the Soldier's ally, OTC is the final check to make sure the Army is getting the right equipment for the Soldier on the battlefield, while concurrently being good stewards of the taxpayer's money. We ensure equipment is battle-ready and provides our Army with the advantage to win decisively.

OTC uses Soldiers to test current and future Army systems in a real-world training environment, guaranteeing our Soldiers have the very best equipment -- specifically that it is survivable, sustainable, and most importantly, effective, on the modern battlefield.

During 2016, OTC conducted 59 operational tests, and will conduct 51 more tests during 2017. Several of these tests occurred right here at the Great Place, including:

Company B, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment "Garryowen," 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division partnered with OTC to put the Soldier Protection System (SPS) through its paces. The 89th Military Police Brigade also joined in, and half the Soldiers from both units wore current body armor while the other half wore a proposed SPS. Their focus was on whether or not the SPS reduced weight, maximized Soldier ergonomics and various human factors such as size, male/female, while verifying the body armor system is modular, and scalable, while supporting various mission sets.

The Medium Mine Protected Vehicle (MMPV) Type II was also tested by Soldiers of the 510th Clearance Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. The MMPV provides a blast-protected platform for Soldiers conducting explosive hazard missions. If approved by Army leadership, the MMPV could replace the four to five MRAP vehicles currently used by the Army. It can be equipped with a robot deployment system, which allows soldiers to stay buttoned-up while the robot deploys to search for roadside bombs.

Artillery soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division tested the new M109A7 Paladin version self-propelled Howitzer, which is another step in the Army's continual modernization efforts of its equipment using information Soldiers learn during combat, then translating their feedback into improved battlefield capabilities through such operational tests.

Chemical Soldiers of Fort Hood's 181st Hazard Response Company, 2nd Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade, tested the Next Generation Chemical Detector (NGCD) system, responding to mock chemical attacks. During NGCD testing, Airmen and Sailors also joined in at other locations, providing the combined team approach to identify any joint operational gaps between the Services.

Fuel handlers of the 615th Aviation Support Battalion (ASB), part of the 1st Air Combat Brigade (ACB) of the 1st Calvary Division, also ran the Modular Fuel System (MFS) through its paces, supporting the Army's modernization efforts by setting it up in its various configurations, then testing fuel delivery to ground and aviation assets, as well as bulk fuel delivery to fuel tankers.

Operational testing is OTC's opportunity to contribute to readiness and anything less compromises the Army's ability to win our Nation's wars.

Operational Testing is about Soldiers. It is about making sure that the systems developed work on the modern battlefield.