By Ms Kari Hawkins ( Redstone)September 21, 2011
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- There's plenty of airspace at Dugway Proving Ground.
And that's exactly what Redstone Arsenal needed when it came knocking two years ago.
Yes, it's a very remote location -- about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City and about 4 1/2 hours flight from Huntsville. The size of Rhode Island, Dugway's 801,505 acres are home to just more than 2,000 people. The installation, which when combined with the nearby Utah Test and Training Range forms the largest military space in the U.S., is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges and located at the end of a two-lane road that features long stretches of uninhabited desert land.
It's that remoteness from everyday life that made Dugway a good place for flying unmanned aircraft systems.
"In 2008, we had 15 different training and integration sites, and that doesn't make sense for an organization that lives interoperability," Tim Owings, deputy project manager for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, said. "We realized we needed to centralize and co-locate all of our systems for operational capability.
"So, in 2009, we moved our testing and training here. We have a 13,000-foot runway and no native aircraft here other than ours. We plan a complete complex here that will be big. It will fundamentally change to become a single place for manned-unmanned interoperability."
About 140 employees -- the majority contractors -- work at the Rapid Integration and Acceptance Center. The three prime contractors located at the Dugway location include AAI, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman.
"This location has allowed us to co-locate training for contractors working on Shadow, Gray Eagle and Hunter," center director Marvin Nichols said.
"We needed a place to bring these contractors together. Our needs also include a place for Shadow acceptance testing, and for testing upgrades to all our aircraft."
With the Unmanned Aircraft Systems' family of aircraft getting upgrades, new payloads, and software and security improvements, a place to test those kinds of changes was required.
"We also had a vision for consolidated logistics, inventory control and depot level maintenance in support of Army UAS," Nichols said. "We needed a place for depot repairs and roll outs for flight testing."
Dugway provided space both on land and in the ground.
"This was a unique opportunity to take advantage of airspace," Nichols said.
Two years ago, Unmanned Aircraft Systems arrived at Dugway and took over its Michael Army Airfield. A hangar was already in place as were a few other smaller buildings. Since then, Unmanned Aircraft Systems has built facilities such as the 10,000-square-foot Shadow facility and an 8,000-square-foot Hunter facility. A new facility is also being planned for Gray Eagle.
Besides facilities, the newest neighbor to the Dugway neighborhood also required an increase in support from the installation's Garrison.
"Employees here support the chemical and biological mission with ground movement," Nichols said. "When we got here, we stretched out the number of personnel we needed support from and we had to ask them to beef up their staff to support our operations. We had to build relationships with all the support activities here because we are a tenant of Dugway. There was a lot of groundwork we needed to do here to get this operational."
More unmanned systems testing will move to Dugway during the next six months and plans are to move Gray Eagle testing to Dugway in early 2013. Nichols also hopes to move the Shadow's logistics storage facility, now at Tooelle Army Depot in Utah, to Dugway.
"We still have some separate locations. Testing is going on at Fort Huachuca (Ariz.) for Shadow, training flights for Hunter are at Fort Huachuca and training flights for Gray Eagle are in California. We hope to consolidate those in facilities here," Nichols said.
"This location is great because we have the ability to come out here and do what we are doing with the Manned Unmanned Systems Integration Capability demonstration and we have all the airspace we want."
Before choosing Dugway, Unmanned Aircraft Systems also considered Fort Huachuca, Yuma (Ariz.) and White Sands (N.M.). But Dugway was united in three areas that were essential to the site -- ground space, airspace and radio spectrum availability.
"This was one of the last few places that had a lot of restricted airspace that we could fly in," Nichols said. "That really made it attractive because the FAA is not designating any more restricted airspace."
Owings said Dugway provided flexibility in flying plans "because they don't have a tremendous amount of base aircraft. … We thought we could be the primary mission here from an aircraft standpoint."
Nichols, who is among about four Unmanned Aircraft Systems employees who are based in Huntsville and travel to Dugway about once a month, said growth is in the air for aviation at Dugway.
"We're very committed to Dugway. We've made quite an investment. We have many commitments here and many facilities here and our people are here," he said.