YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.-- For soldiers of any nation deployed in a war zone, the natural environment can be as formidable an enemy as their armed human adversaries.
U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground conducts testing in three of the world's most punishing extreme climates, and testers from friendly foreign nations have long utilized the installation to subject their military equipment to rigorous environmental testing.
One of the latest of these is the German Ministry of Defense, which brought the G95K assault rifle here for intense scrutiny in real-world conditions.
Like the currently fielded G36, the G95K is a NATO-compatible 5.56 x 45 mm rifle with a high rate of fire. The G95K, however, boasts a lighter weight and improved safety lever, as well as a higher resistance to corrosion and abrasion. The German Special Commando Forces are interested in adopting the new, more-versatile weapon, but first wanted to subject it to rigorous operational testing in realistic natural environments.
"This rifle has already gone through all the technical tests," said Luis Arroyo, chief of YPG's Training and Exercise Management Office (TEMO). "This portion is the user input into the piece of equipment--these soldiers will use the rifle in a way soldiers typically use a rifle."
Simultaneously, soldiers participating in the test also tested a new night vision goggle. This symbiosis was fruitful not only in that ensuring that both systems can work in harmony in real-world conditions, but also since the majority of the realistic tactical scenarios the participants ran during their time here took place at night.
"There is a fusion here between using a new night vision goggle and rifle," said Arroyo. "They are closing the gap between tests of different equipment."
Among other things, the soldiers drove across portions of YPG's vast ranges while utilizing the goggles, measuring how quickly they could see imperfections in roads and terrain they were unfamiliar with.
Germany's temperate environment lacks the extreme conditions German soldiers have faced in recent years in places like Afghanistan, which makes YPG a coveted spot for testing.
"They are very interested in testing at the hottest time of the year--they really want to challenge their equipment," said Arroyo.
Prior to fielding the new weapon, the testing was conducted to answer a number of questions: How well can the weapon be handled by infantrymen whose hands are slippery with gritty sweat? Is the weapon's optical sight compatible with infantrymen wearing sunglasses or night vision goggles? Will it still function in dust and dirt, even when it isn't cleaned for several days? American Army testers ask similar questions when testing their own equipment.
For this test, participants started by calibrating the sights of their weapons and conducting simple drills and maneuvers against a wide variety of paper and reactive targets on one of YPG's rifle ranges.
"Every target is emplaced an exact distance," said Arroyo. "When a customer gives us a measurement, that measurement is met with precision."
During this phase of the testing, a 120-watt radar dish was employed to measure the fired weapon's muzzle velocity and verify a round's trajectory in the extreme weather. This equipment is typically used to track much-larger artillery rounds, but YPG's operators were up to the task.
"The operator has to be on their game and ensure everything is set up correctly to trace this rapidly-moving object the size of a pencil eraser," said Arroyo. "A horsefly is bigger than this bullet, and doesn't fly as fast."
Following this, the soldiers performed realistic team and squad maneuvers across a wider portion of the range. The use of live ammunition and the fact that much of the operations were conducted at night meant ensuring safe operations was particularly important for the TEMO staff.
"You learn quickly your customer, just like learning your squad, platoon, and company," said Arroyo. "You see where the strengths and weaknesses are, and what the tendencies are. You have to learn the people to observe where the risks lay, and address them as they become known."
For their part, test executives from the German forces were pleased with the support they received from YPG personnel during their testing, as well as the natural desert laboratory the installation provides.
"We did some testing elsewhere, too, but here at the Yuma Proving Ground we have special conditions of sand and dust," said Dr. Karl-Heinz Rippert, chief of optronics in the lasers and acoustics branch of the German Ministry of Defense. "Also, the landscape profile is similar to Afghanistan. The result we achieve should have some relevance to our missions, and the main mission in recent years was in Afghanistan."
Personnel with the German Ministry of Defense expect to continue to perform testing at YPG in the future.
"We have a good relationship with the US Army," said Rippert. "For that reason, there is already a framework that can be enabled to conduct testing easily."