FORT KNOX, Ky. — A Range Control official at Fort Knox says what will be the installation’s newest training tool for air and ground coordinated attacks is on track for completion by 2023.
Considered a multipurpose site, the Digital Air-Ground Integration Range is expected to realistically and accurately test the coordinated combat capabilities of military aircraft, tracked, heavy-wheeled and even dismounted operations simultaneously. Rodney Manson, Installation Range Management officer, said the contractor has finished about 25% of the project.
“Our expected use of the range will mainly be units from 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell because they have all the air assets, but we could see units from other installations east of the Mississippi,” said Manson. “I’m very excited and almost wish I was still in the Army to be able to use it because this is going to be probably one of the most advanced ranges that the Army has.”
As a digital range, the system will be able to capture the actions and reactions of Soldiers and aviators traveling along lanes and engaging pop-up, stationary or rolling targets. Those actions can then be played back later to assess successes and challenges at every scenario in the exercises.
The first DAGIR was constructed at Fort Bliss, Texas in 2012 after it was conceptualized in the 1990s. The installation is home to 1st Armored Division. The idea for a second active-duty Army range surfaced in 2004, the same year Manson started work at Fort Knox.
Army officials said they wanted a second range located east of the Mississippi River. The focus narrowed to somewhere in Kentucky, according to Manson, but they had a dilemma. Fort Knox had the training space, but not the aviation assets. Fort Campbell had the aviation assets, but not the training space.
“Knox was chosen because we have more space than they do,” said Manson.
Officials from Fort Knox’s Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security along with members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided Yano Range would be the ideal spot. For years it had been the range for coordinated tank live-fire training of track and heavy-wheeled vehicles, complete with a two-story observation tower that rose 300 feet above the basin.
Manson knew the range well, having started his time at Fort Knox there.
“When we came and did an initial look at the facility, we decided we could use a lot of the existing infrastructure,” said Manson. “When you see firing points, when you see pits, none of that’s going to change.”
Taking advantage of the existing range amounted to almost $25 million in cost savings for the Army, said Manson: “That was a big selling point for them.” Instead of the range costing over $75 million, it will run about $52 million, with about $19 million of that covering the cost of instrumentation.
While the range is equipped with the space and target lanes needed to go live, it still was in need of modernization upgrades to make it fully integrated for air and ground force capabilities.
“We had to put in new electric and data because that was one of the biggest problems we had; the copper wiring was actually getting brittle and breaking,” said Manson. “We added about another 800 to 1,000 meters to the end of the range, so that’s where all the new targets will go in, and some modifications to the existing targetry.”
Manson said an already existing building at the edge of the range will be converted into an after-action review auditorium, so leaders can gather and discuss what they did well, what they need to work on, and ways to improve. Six high definition cameras will also be mounted at key locations across the range to capture all the action for the AARs. The basin is where all the administrative operations will take place.
Another area requiring new construction is the old mountain overlook, where a three-story tower will replace the previous two-story tower, providing unimpeded observation and control of the range during training.
Several other new buildings are also being constructed in the basin. Those include a range operations building, battery-charging station, target storage facility, instrumentation dock where vehicles and equipment will be wired with cameras and sensors for monitoring, and an aircraft forward arming and refueling point with a reinforced blast protection wall.
Manson said the range will also facilitate dismounted combat training beyond the end of the DAGIR training site for track vehicles, which is delineated by Rolling Fork River.
“The wheeled vehicles and dismounted troops will be able to go north of the river and actually infiltrate what we call the live-fire village,” said Manson. “They’ll be able to do the ground and air integration from there as opposed to on this side of the river. It’s a small city that will be built to do that in.”
Manson said the concrete city, commonly known as a military operations in urban training site, or MOUT, will contain about five to 10 buildings.
“It’s all above ground, but they’ll be able to go in and clear some rooms, or get on top of the roofs and engage targets,” said Manson. “It’ll be live-fire as well.”
At the end of the range, there are about 6 kilometers of impact area that allows artillerymen and airmen to conduct long-range live-fire exercises.
Manson said construction of the range should be complete in 2022, in time to go live the following year after completing instrumentation installation.
“This will allow that commander to take all those pieces that would be available to him in combat, and incorporate it into one training event,” said Manson. “When completed, the DAGIR would be a required gate prior to units going to one of the combat training centers.
“Right now, a lot of units don’t get the opportunity to conduct this type of training because a facility like this doesn’t exist.”