Until approximately 10 years ago, Dugway regularly tested munitions, stepping outside its assigned missions of testing smoke or obscurant producing devices, or defenses against chemical or biological agents.
Employing environmental conditioning chambers that can produce from -75 to nearly 200 degrees Fahrenheit, munitions were challenged to function under Earth's most appalling conditions. These included practice mortar rounds that flashed and banged upon impact, and aerial flares fired from mortars.
But Army Test and Evaluation Command decided to return its proving grounds to their intended missions. Munitions testing returned almost exclusively to Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.
Eventually, Dugway was faced with replacing the control systems on seven 100-Series, wheeled conditioning chambers at $65,000 to $75,000 each. Purchased 30 years ago for $135,000 each, a new 100-Series chamber costs about $300,000 today, according to Jim Barnett, chief of the Physical & Environmental Branch of the Test Support Division.
"They're not compatible with our mission, but they are compatible with Yuma's mission," Barnett said, so he offered them to Yuma: no cost, you haul away and replace the control systems.
Yuma accepted the offer and saved itself and the taxpayer more than $1.5 million. By September, the seventh 100-Series chamber should be trucked to Yuma. More savings may be in the works. Dugway has four 20-Series, skid-mounted conditioning chambers it no longer uses. They too require upgrading.
Barnett, and Brendt Sigvardt, an engineering technician with the same branch, recently submitted a recommendation to Dugway's leadership, calling for the reduction of 20 and 100-Series chambers, yet retaining chambers that provide a wide range of environmental challenges: humidity, fungus, salt fog, solar radiation, blowing dust, altitude, vibration and bounce chambers.
They also proposed the construction of three large, fixed chambers to allow trained personnel operate chemical and biological detectors in challenging conditions, for more authentic testing. With the three large chambers completed, even more portable chambers could be disposed of -- but some would be retained as a backup or for field use portability.
With fewer chambers, fewer operators would be needed and sustainment cost is reduced, Sigvardt and Barnett note in their proposal. Though costs are cut, corners will not be: smoke or obscurant producing devices, or defenses against chemical or biological agents, will continue to be vigorously challenged to ensure they function as required, under a multitude of conditions.
Ironically, Barnett may not see the fruition of his labors -- after nine years in the Army and 35 years as a Dugway worker, he plans to retire the end of September. But Sigvardt and others will remain to see this and other plans through, supporting the Warfighter of all services, and civilian agencies, no matter where they may be.