From Sandia Lab News, July 26, 1991:
Testing Bunker-Buster, Cruise Missile
TTR Delivered the Goods for Desert Storm
One good test is worth a thousand opinions, say the folks at Tonopah Test Range (TTR). Their business is making sure that tests produce the data to make them “good” – whether the hardware being tested succeeds or not. Part of that business is making sure tests involving explosives, low-flying aircraft, or fast-moving projectiles don’t endanger valuable equipment or anyone’s safety.
TTR has been carrying out that mission for DoE and others since 1957. But during the Persian Gulf war, says TTR Dept. 7510 Manager Ron Bentley, TTR truly proved itself a national asset. From December to March, TTR people were squeezing quick-reaction tests into their schedule without disrupting commitments to operations already on their docket. That often means working extended hours and weekends.
One of the weapons tested was used in Desert Storm the Air Force’s GBU-28 laser-guided penetrator bomb (more in “How TTR Helped the Air Force Ready a New Bomb”). Other hardware undergoing tests at TTR either was not ready in time for the brief war or has received no public acknowledgment of use.
The Air Force rushed its penetrator bomb through development in six weeks, in time for strikes against Iraqi command bunkers. TTR’s part in this swift project brought the range a letter of thanks from the Air Force (LAB NEWS, May 3), naming several Sandians and contractors as particular contributors. Such recognition makes Ron Bentley proud, but it also disappoints him because of the names that don’t get mentioned.
Customers See Just A Few
“There are so many whom the customer doesn’t see,” says Ron, “and I want to take the opportunity to thank them. A successful test takes the efforts of everyone. It’s the people out on the tracking camera mounts and the radars, or in the telemetry room-Sandians and EG&G folks. It’s the people in the computer room – and I know I’m leaving out a lot myself. Then there are the REECo (Reynolds Electric and Engineering Co.) people, who take care of our maintenance and construction, the security people with ASI (Advance Security, Inc.), and the Ross Aviation airlift support.
“It’s all these who make it happen. My job, and that of the supervisors, is really to facilitate communications with customers and to ensure that customers’ requirements are known to our people who do the job.”
Some 60 Sandians work at TTR, along with 20 EG&G technicians, 60 to 70 REECo employees, and 60 to 70 ASI employees.
The GBU-28 illustrates the many crafts and disciplines required for a test, especially an unusual one. Within a matter of days, an old concrete target had to be made ready on a dry lake bed, a 60-foot pole mounted for a guidance laser, protective filters located for the optics (because laser-guided weapons are not normally tested at TTR), security provided for a new weapon of unclear classification status, and details of telemetry and communications worked out.
Tomahawks at Night
The use of the GBU-28 during the last days of Desert Storm is a story that has only gradually become known, after the end of the war. But another weapon, tested at Tonopah about a year ago, was in headlines and on TV news from the start.
Worldwide audiences saw video footage of Tomahawk cruise missiles bursting out of launch tubes and, with incredible precision, striking targets in Iraq. Not publicly visible, but certainly vital, were a pair of night flights at TTR. The issue was whether the TLAM-C (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile Conventional) could successfully navigate a course in darkness.
“We had had Tomahawk test here earlier, “says Carl Smith, Supervisor of Optical Measurement Division 7514. “But those were all daytime tests using a mobile launcher. The INF (Intermediate range Nuclear Forces) Treaty banned mobile launchers. So that we could do this test, the gang turned to , removed the old launcher from the truck, and mounted it permanently on a pad with a support structure. Within about a week, we had a permanent ground launcher that’s registered under the INF treaty.”
The Tomahawk uses navigation systems called Digital Scene Matching Aero Correlator (DSMAC) and Terrain Contour Matching (TERCOM) to find its way to a target. Operating these systems at night, in a flight over TTR and Nellis AFB terrain gave the information needed to predict how the missiles would perform at night.
“Desert Town” Built
“We made a “desert town” for the tests,” says Gary West. Supervisor of Range Operations Div. 7513, “using trailers, truck chassis, and other things available on the range to represent structures. There were 50 or more objects, all arranged in patterns to test the missile’s ability to recognize where it was in relation to a target. “The town” included illumination to simulate street lights and lighted parking lots.
After a flight of more than an hour, each missile hurtled through a target area where arrays of fixed cameras recorded it at the fuze point, which the missile indicated by firing an on-board strobe. On a real mission, the warhead would have exploded there. For the test, however, the Tomahawk flew on, a parachute opened, and the missile came to the ground intact for recovery.
Rockets at a B-1
In another test, the Air Force checked how well the tail warning radar of a B-1B bomber could pick up a threatening enemy missile in a environment of radar desert clutter. Crucial in this demanding test was TTR’s unique method of having radar operators use a video system to supplement automatic radar tracking. An automatic radar can easily become confused about which target to track when at aircraft releases a smaller object such as a bomb or rocket. By following the test on video and overriding the automatic tracking as necessary, the operators can keep the radar pointed at a desired object.
During the B-1B test, conducted with aircraft a few hundred feet off the ground, TTR radars simultaneously tracked the B-1, an F-16 behind it firing rockets, the rockets themselves and another F-16 flying wing for the shooter. This was done about 12 times, with a total of about 30 missiles fired.
“Our way of using manual override for the radar can be the difference between success in tracking something like a tiny rocket blip with aircraft around it and simply not being able to conduct the test.” says Gary West. “I don’t know that any other range in the country could have handled this one.”
In fact says Howard Gipson (Data Systems Div. 7512), project leader for TTR’s radars, this test had been tried unsuccessfully elsewhere. “Other ranges were able to track only about 10 percent of the rockets,” he says. “We were successful with about 90 percent.” (See “Cameras and Radar Keep Eyes on the Test” for more about radar and camera tracking.)
Ground-Level Tests, Too
Not all testing at TTR involves aircraft of missiles, In January, TTR was one of the sites used for testing fuel-air explosives (FAE) that Sandia was developing as a possible way to detonate buried land mines. A fuel-air explosive works by letting the fuel – propane, in this case – mix with air, then detonating the mixture to cause a large explosion. The tests at TTR (as well as others at Albuquerque) were successful enough to encourage further development, should a sponsor be interested.
Another unusual test was of a countermeasure to be used against an antitank weapon. After short-range tests at Albuquerque conducted by Truck and Cables Div. 7515, the test series was moved to TTR for long-range missiles. The TTR people used one of their own tanks as a target – first removing the valuable hardware from inside, just in case. That turned out to be unnecessary, though, because the countermeasure worked as intended and made the antitank missile fly into the ground.
Ideal for Optics
Tests such as these emphasize the value of having an available stretch of flat land located between isolated mountain ranges and furnished with tracking devices. “This is really an ideal setup.” says Ron Bentley. “Dry lake beds are strung out along a north-south run-in line, so the optics can be placed with the sun behind them to either the east or west – for tracking the test units while they’re front-lit by the sun. That natural arrangement, plus the precision of the optics we use, plus our really good people, give us some capabilities that other ranges just can’t match. So besides our DOE testing, we’re called on the DoD work that can’t be done on their ranges.” (See “TTR Basics.”)
The remoteness of TTR – on the north end of the Nellis Bombing and Gunnery Range, about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 30 miles southeast of the town of Tonopah – is also valuable, says Ron. “We have 525 square miles of controlled land area, so there’s plenty of space to keep hazardous operations well isolated. That’s also true of sensitive tests where you wouldn’t want curious eyes looking on.”
In sum, the combination of place and people makes TTR perfect for separating opinions from fact.
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