Telling the ATEC Story: The People Behind Test & Evaluation - Herbert Kiser

By ATEC G 3-5June 3, 2024

When Herbert Kiser's father retired from the Army after 22 years, he moved his family back to the Appalachian Mountains, where he was raised. For Kiser and his three brothers, the move from Berlin, Germany, to Appalachia marked an extreme culture change. They transitioned from the bustling, cosmopolitan environment of Berlin, with its rich history and modern amenities, to the rural, close-knit communities of the Appalachian Mountains, where life was slower-paced and more deeply rooted in traditional family values.

Their father worked as an electrician in the coal mines, and they lived in a home without running water or indoor plumbing. This dramatic cultural shift exposed them to a way of life far removed from the conveniences and modern luxuries they had known in Berlin. It presented them with new challenges and a very different way of life. Their new lifestyle required resilience and resourcefulness, traits Kiser believes contributed significantly to his professional growth and success.

Kiser's professional journey began in 1983 when he joined the Army at 19 as a 24C Hawk radar technician. In this role, he was responsible for maintaining and repairing radar equipment associated with the Hawk missile system. The Hawk (Homing All the Way Killer) missile system is a medium-range surface-to-air missile system designed for use in air defense. During his six-year military career he served in Fulda and Wildflecken, Germany, and Fort Bliss, Texas. After exiting the military, he went back to work supporting the Army as a civilian at the Reagan Test Center at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, or YPG, and Fort Huachuca, in Arizona.

Today, Kiser works as the radar systems team lead and radar tracking subject matter expert, or SME, in the Air Combat Directorate in the Instrumentation Division at the Yuma Test Center, or YTC, located on YPG. He has 35 years of Major Range and Test Facility Base, or MRTFB, experience gained from his time spent as a Soldier, his many years as a Department of the Army, or DA, Civilian, and from working in private industry at various locations.

Kiser is involved in every phase of YPG's radar systems' lifecycle, from design and development to testing and troubleshooting. Additionally, he provides training and guidance to his team members on the use and maintenance of tracking radar systems. He is always eager to share his expertise to enhance his team's capabilities.

As the radar systems team lead for an MRTFB, Kiser is responsible for managing and overseeing the installation, maintenance, and operation of radar systems to ensure they function correctly and meet all operational requirements.

As the SME on radar tracking, Kiser plays a crucial role in designing, developing, and improving radar systems used for detecting, following, and providing precise information on the position and movement of objects. He uses his extensive technical knowledge to ensure specific performance requirements are met. He conducts and oversees tests, analyzes data, and identifies and resolves issues to maintain optimal performance of YPG’s radar tracking systems.

A significant part of Kiser's role involves his team developing or designing tests to validate the performance of weapon systems. For instance, when tasked with validating a hypersonic test that had previously failed, his team collaborated with a National lab to autonomously operate their radar systems and develop a data collection method. This proof of concept met the test requirements, ultimately leading to the successful deployment of the systems.

Kiser explains that his team often uses their collective expertise to adapt legacy radar systems for data collection, even when these systems were not initially designed for the specific type of testing being used. He highlights that their ability to think outside the box is a testament to the skilled, adaptive, energetic, and enthusiastic YTC employees who demonstrate their daily dedication to the mission.

Kiser oversees YPG’s radar capabilities as the MRTFB system manager for the YPG test range. He concentrates on the technical performance and evaluation of specific systems within the range. His responsibilities include overseeing the testing and evaluation of specific systems such as radar, communications, and weapon systems. He provides technical expertise to ensure these systems meet performance specifications and requirements.

As the primary radar lead at YPG, he ensures the test range operates smoothly, safely, and effectively. He is responsible for planning and scheduling tests, managing resources, and coordinating activities essential for testing military equipment and systems. He also implements safety protocols for the range and ensures all personnel comply with applicable safety regulations and standards.

Kiser serves as the instrumentation range support manager for the Instrumentation Range Support Program, or IRSP. The IRSP, overseen by the Air Force, operates a centralized depot and storage site housing critical parts for aging tracking systems. The ranges rely on this warehouse, stocked with 10,000 essential components for most of the older range instrumentation systems still in use. Kiser says the IRSP is a lifeline for YPG's testing operations because it provides procurement, sustainment, modernization services, and engineering support for critical instrumentation equipment used across its test ranges. The program works by covering a lot of instrumentation YTC depends on daily to support the ranges and to meet its test mission.

Kiser oversees the maintenance of over 300 instrumentation end items and says the cost for an individual range to store all the legacy parts it needs is cost-prohibitive. Rather than maintaining individual depots at each range site, the IRSP depot houses the legacy components for older range instrumentation systems. YPG invests a significant portion of its annual range sustainment budget in funding the procurement and modernization of its instrumentation systems. Over the past six years, these items have required an annual funding of approximately $8 million to $9 million, but Kiser says the cost can vary depending on utilization. Kiser's role has been crucial in ensuring that YTC's instrumentation equipment remains up-to-date and fully operational to support the test range's needs.

Kiser serves as the radar chair for the Range Commanders Council, or RCC, within the Electronic Test and Measurement Group, or ETMG. The ETMG is tasked with enhancing and standardizing electronic testing and measurement at test ranges. The group's mission is to ensure electronic tests are conducted using the best possible methods and the latest technology.

As radar chair, Kiser leads initiatives to improve and standardize radar testing, offers expert technical advice, and keeps the group updated on new radar technologies. He organizes meetings and spearheads discussions related to radar systems. He coordinates efforts among the test ranges to ensure consistency and reliability in radar data.

Kiser is continuously focused on securing sufficient resources for test missions, keeping his leadership informed about radar system issues, and addressing questions regarding the future of radar systems. His primary concern is managing the ever-changing mission demands with his available resources. He notes that being shorthanded often means doing more with less and frequently requires his team to work late hours to accomplish more.

Kiser takes pride in being frequently sought after for his technical feedback and participation in assessments by the Department of Defense, or DOD, and the Department of Energy, or DOE, communities. His top priorities are always supporting the mission, implementing technology modernization, ensuring long-term sustainment of instrumentation, developing methods to cross-utilize instrumentation systems, and mentoring others by passing on his immense knowledge of radar systems.

He strongly believes in teamwork and acknowledges that it's impossible to achieve everything alone. As the workload increased, he says he was forced to learn to rely more on his team, moving away from his earlier tendency to handle too much on his own. However, he admits he still has to work on delegating more responsibilities to his team while avoiding his tendency to micromanage. Kiser says he does believe in the value of bringing together people with diverse perspectives, especially after he witnessed firsthand the successful outcomes of such collaborations.

When he reflects on his past, Kiser wishes he had dedicated more time to continuing his education after leaving the Army. He believes it would have afforded him opportunities to widen his sphere of influence, provide a higher level of support to the Army, and develop into a more effective leader.

In his personal life, Kiser is a devoted husband to his amazing wife of 29 years and a doting father to his two daughters. One of his daughters has earned a master's degree in teaching, while the other is set to receive her master's later this year. Kiser considers his roles as a husband and father his most worthwhile achievements. He says he derives great joy knowing his daughters place the same value on higher education as he does, as well as being on hand to witness them achieve their academic goals.

Kiser says he will start considering retirement in the next five to 10 years, but for now, he is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of radar SMEs and is confident his many years of notable contributions to advancing radar technology will only strengthen the missions of YTC, YPG, and the Army.

With over 40 years dedicated to radar systems as a military service member and a DA Civilian, Kiser is grateful for all the opportunities the Army has afforded him to do what he loves and to give back 110 percent to the mission he strongly supports. Kiser says as long as he's able, he will continue paving the way forward for the next radar expert who will build upon his work.

His dedication and commitment to what he loves is evidenced by the numerous testing innovations implemented during his tenure. For him, there is no greater satisfaction than seeing his contributions displayed in the daily successes of the Army's test mission and witnessing the stellar support being provided to the DOD and DOE organizations by his team of professionals.