Expiration dates are useful when purchasing perishable food items, but missiles don't come with 'sell by' dates. That's where a Stockpile Reliability Program, or SRP, comes into play at the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center, or RTC. It's a one stop shop for this type of test, and the procedures at RTC keep improving.

A typical SRP of the Javelin missile involves pulling missiles from a lot or batch. RTC then puts them through the paces. First, they are inspected and tested to make sure they are functional. Some of the missiles are sent to the range to be fired, while the rest are cycled through environmental testing. After freezing, vibration, and other types of stress tests, the missiles are torn down, and some of the components are put through a final round of testing.

RTC's Electro-Optical Sensor Flight Evaluation Laboratory, known as EOSFEL, is a hardware-in-the-loop facility that has been testing Javelin components including guidance sections and fin actuators since 1999.

Hardware-in-the-loop testing is a form of data collection that falls in between simulation and live firing. The process uses a combination of software simulation and actual hardware to offer a cost-effective manner of quickly gathering a large amount of reliable data.

A new test capability RTC engineers and technicians recently developed is the Advanced Command Launch Unit, or CLU, Emulator, or ACE. An emulator is hardware or software used in computing that allows one computer system to behave like another computer system. By emulating the CLU, the ACE can quickly reconfigure Javelin guidance sections for an assortment of test scenarios. The ACE is robust enough to work with a variety of applications without having to design a different test set for every program. This reduces the time needed to develop systems from scratch for specific tests.

"The ACE saves a lot of development time. We don't have to reinvent the wheel for different test systems that come through," said Matthew Scott, EOSFEL lab engineer at RTC. "Combined with reusable software that we've developed over the past decade, RTC is able to reduce development costs while improving our test capabilities."

These new processes for developing reusable test equipment and software are part of an overall quality improvement program at RTC.

"We're always interested in improving quality," said Adam Turnbull, lead developer of ACE hardware. "By defining shared development processes and reusing custom-developed test equipment such as ACE, we can deliver a greater value to the customer."

This combination of quality and value is passed on to the warfighter and ultimately, the taxpayer.