New Inertial Navigation Lab provides rare cumulative quality testing

By Haley Myers, DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center Public AffairsMay 6, 2022

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REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 6, 2022) – When it comes to the nation’s defense and protection of the Warfighter, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center’s Inertial Navigation Laboratory is essential – especially when missiles are on the table.

DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center leaders celebrated the lab’s grand opening with a ribbon cutting May 4. While inertial test capabilities exist in locations other than DEVCOM AvMC’s newest facility, there are few places with the cumulative capability and expertise as housed in the new lab.

“Fifty-plus years of specialized capability in cutting-edge research, development, testing and integration of inertial sensors is hard to beat,” said Brad Ellison, AvMC Navigation Technology Sensor branch chief.

That capability will benefit not only AvMC, but the customers and partners it supports.

"The Technology Development Directorate’s Navigation Technology Division and AvMC Facilities worked closely together to provide a world-class inertial navigation evaluation facility,” said Christi Dolbeer, director of the AvMC Technology Development Directorate, which the lab falls under. “We are very appreciative for the congressional authorities that enable our ability to keep pace with industry lab standards.”

When you walk through the Inertial Navigation Laboratory’s door, it doesn’t look like a typical lab, and at first glance you think dog kennel vice a state-of-the-art testing facility, but when you take a look inside each of the cages, or piers, in lab speak, lining the walls, you quickly see, this is no dog kennel. Instead, each pier is home to equipment like centrifuges, high speed rate tables and multi-axis rate tables -- equipment that confirms military systems and products will perform as expected in the field, and allows the opportunity to test and re-test military navigation systems before they are applied.

“With missile navigation systems, it’s important to know which way the missile is pointing, which way it’s travelling and how fast it’s moving,” Ellison said. “There are sensors inside that tell you the answer to all those questions that are required in order for you to accomplish successful navigation.”

So, how does this lab work? Gyroscopes and accelerometers measure angular rate and acceleration respectively – those sensors are taken from an asset and mounted to rate tables and centrifuges to simulate conditions seen during flight. Rate tables can simulate spinning and turning while centrifuges help simulate multiple gravitational forces that are experienced during flight maneuvers, rather than just Earth’s gravity. Inside the facility are multiple rate tables and centrifuges that can reach different speeds. The high-speed rate table can achieve up to 10,000 degrees per second of rotation or over 27 revolutions per second while there is a 70 G and 1,000 G centrifuge to recreate the various accelerations a sensor would experience.

“Is it going to be fielded in a really cold environment, an arctic environment, or is it going to be in a desert environment?” explained Ellison. “It has to be able to work in both of those extremes — so we have the capability in our lab space here to test those devices from really cold to really hot temperatures at the same time they experience simulated motion.”

While the lab features a lot of cutting-edge technology, another focus is fixing and improving older technology, since a lot of the assets that are in the field have surpassed their expected life-cycle. The Inertial Navigation Lab’s job is to determine how well — and for how much longer — an asset in the field can perform the way it needs to.

“Are the assets in the field still good? Are they still going to work?” Ellison said. “Because ultimately when our Warfighter needs to use something, we want to make sure it provides them either the offensive or defensive capability that it was intended for.”

But there are more elements besides temperature and speed that a product, like a missile, is exposed to. Inside the Environmental Lab, elements like shock and vibration are also tested. When transporting missiles through the field, whether that be on the back of a vehicle or if the missile itself is vibrating because of the propellant or if the missile is speeding downrange, the lab tests the sensors for each of these elements to be sure that it holds up in application. Another important question the lab can answer is how long a product is going to last.

“You don’t want to wait 20 years to answer the question, ‘Is this thing going to last 20 years?’” Ellison said. “So, we do what’s called highly accelerated lifetime testing, or HALT testing.”

HALT testing consists of a test chamber and an algorithm that puts a test article through the vibration and temperature environment that the asset, like a missile, will experience over several years of use. What this does is subject the asset to rigorous testing and provides a good estimate determining how long the asset will last in the field. For example, continuous testing for 30 days in a HALT chamber could tell how well something will perform after 10 years of fielded use.

“We can answer the question with a pretty good degree of certainty,” Ellison said. “This asset is going to last 10 years, it’s going to perform the way it needs to for 10 years, and we can answer that question in 30 days, you don’t have to wait. It’s not a bulletproof solution, but it provides enough data to say with a high level of certainty that this will perform the way it was designed to and it’s going to last a long time.”


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.