FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Urban warfare is inherently dangerous and has some very difficult and unique challenges for today’s warfighters. Warriors face hidden dangers and obstacles around each corner, behind each piece of furniture, and inside each room. An added threat is the possibility of secret and hidden tunnels, rooms and even underground complexes.
Fort Bragg’s Range Control Office set out to build a subterranean training range to simulate combat underground and in tight spaces. In conjunction with conventional and special operations units on Fort Bragg, the range control team was able to incorporate their real-world training requirements and needs into a safe and controlled environment.
“In a stressful situation, you always revert to what you know,” said Wolf Amacker, Fort Bragg Installation Range officer. “If you know your training and are well trained, then in stressful situations, you will revert to that training. That’s exactly what we want Soldiers to do.”
Amacker added that the first time in a subterranean facility should not be in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The existing Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility located at Range 68 offered an ideal location to incorporate a tunnel complex. Through the decades, thousands of service members passed the range’s borders. However, beginning in late September 2020, the MOUT facility will offer new challenges to warfighters.
“What units’ find when they come to (training facilities) like this [...] is what we can’t account for,” Amacker explained. “As you go through and clear an area, what you tend to find is a tapestry hanging on a wall. You move that tapestry and there’s a hole in the wall and it leads somewhere. You move a bed and some planks and there is a hole in the floor that leads somewhere.”
The $1.34 million addition to Range 68 brings new and realistic challenges to the service members operating there. Double stacked CONEXs at tunnel junction points serve as enemy command posts, where Soldiers not only have to fight to secure, but also search for enemy intelligence and information.
“Radio communications don’t work inside this facility,” Amacker said. “So, if you’re in there and try to radio out for help, just like being 100 feet under the ground, it’s not going to work. You have to figure out now how to communicate back to the people on the surface.”
The mostly-above ground tunnel system varies from 7-foot tall rooms to tunnels only 30 inches tall. Service members not only have to get themselves, their equipment and their team through, but also watch for booby-traps, enemy forces, as well as, constantly-changing tunnels
“If we were to build a subterranean facility literally under the ground where they typically are, that leads to additional risks: cave-ins and the use of oxygen,” said Amacker. “People don’t think about that. If you go deep underground and there’s not good air flow you’ll die of suffocation. If you do that in real-world training the same thing applies.”
Construction began on the range in January 2020, and service members will begin training on the new facility towards the end of September. With over a kilometer of tunnels, the new training facility is not only a first for Fort Bragg, but a first in the entire Army. Other much shorter underground training facilities exist in the Army, however, none that offer the complexity, difficulty and size as the subterranean training facility at Range 68.
“War is immeasurably more difficult than training,” Amacker explained. “The harder we train in peacetime, the less we bleed in combat.”