Fighter pilots needs to train with live ammunition, and a country with a large military obviously needs a huge area to practice in.
One of the largest such training areas of this type in the United States is the Barry M. Goldwater Range (BMGR)
Most countries have areas where their fighter pilots can train with live ammunition and a country with a large military obviously needs a huge area to practice in. One of the largest such training areas of this type in the United States is the Barry M.
Goldwater Range (BMGR) located in southern Arizona between Yuma and Tucson, close to the Mexican border.
The area is close to seven million square kilometres and consists mainly of pristine desert. Above the ground, pilots have close to 240 million cubic kilometres of airspace to train in. Here they can push themselves and their aircraft
to the limit while they practice air combat or attacking simulated targets on the ground. The large size of BMGR means that up to fifty aircraft can train in nine air-to-ground areas and two air-to-air areas simultaneously.
The range has been used for training pilots since 1941 and has, in addition to its enormous size, the advantage of being located so close to the twelve military bases that pilots can use the facilities without requiring air-to-air
The location is used by the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps as well as pilots from allied countries. In total, over 68,000 missions are flown each year in the skies over BMGR. Despite the fact that it is possible to use
live ammunition on five varied targets, 98% of the weapons used are training rounds only.
One reason for this is that the area, due to its size, is home to quite a few endangered species including Sonoran Pronghorn antelopes. Prior to the use of live ammunition, biologists must be sent into the area to ensure that there are no Pronghorns within
a radius of five kilometres from the target. If so, the mission is either moved to another target or cancelled.
BMGR is divided into two sectors; the western part (BMGR-W) is controlled from MCAS Yuma and is mainly used by the F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8 Harriers from the same base. The eastern part (BMGR-E) is controlled from Luke Air Force Base
and is mainly used by A-10 Thunderbolt II from Davis Monthan AFB and F-16 Fighting Falcons from Luke AFB.
It’s not because that there’s anything wrong with the A-10.
It’s just the big 30mm GAU-8 / A Avenger Gatling gun being used extensively,
creating a cloud of smoke around the plane.
A pair of targets on BMGR. This is among other things,
those the pilots are aiming for when they do their target practice.
At the beginning of 2013, FLYMAG visited the 56th Range Management Office at Luke AFB to learn more about the Barry M Goldwater Range-East.
BMGR-E consists of three main areas: The shooting area (BMGR-E), Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Air Field and the 56th Range Management Office at Luke Air Force Base. Together, these three areas form a complete training system
for both student and experienced pilots.
The eastern part of the BMGR is approximately 4,000,000 square kilometres and contains among other things, four manned shooting ranges, three simulated bombing areas and several locations where air combat can be practiced.
The facilities in the range can cope with many different types of missions. On the four manned shooting ranges pilots can practice dropping conventional bombs and even engage ground targets with a gun.
Each of the four manned ranges consists of:
- A fixed target which can be used for both unguided bombs and guns
- “Banner” targets which can be used for gun strafing
- A manned tower where a controller controls the aircraft using the shooting range
- An unmanned turret which is used for triangulating bomb impacts on the fixed target
When a group of aircraft are going to use one of the four manned shooting ranges, they must first get permission from the air traffic controller in charge of the area. The flight of aircraft will often be flown by an instructor
pilot and up to three student pilots being trained in the use of unguided bombs and strafing.
The airmen fly in a circular pattern above the shooting range so that they can then peel off one at a time and drop bombs or shoot with the gun. Typically, they start by using small blue ballistic training bombs (BDU-33) against
a stationary target. Approaches can be done from different heights and dive angles depending on what needs to be learnt.
Usually, one or two so-called “dry runs” are carried out to start with. This is where the target is approached but no bombs are dropped or shots fired. After the dry runs, pilots call “In hot” over the radio, meaning they will
drop a practice bomb or fire their gun. Practice bombs are the BDU 33, which simulate a Mk-82 bomb.
In order to assess the pilot’s precision, the BDU 33 is equipped with a small powder charge, which emits a cloud of white smoke when the bomb hits the ground. Mounted on top of both the manned and unmanned turrets is a video
camera which points towards the stationary target. Images from these cameras are sent live to the 56th Range Management Office at Luke AFB, colloquially called “Snake Eye” and through triangulation, the precision of the
bomb impact can be determined quickly (more on this later in the article).
Bomb distance and direction from the stationary target is sent via radio to range controller, who then tells the pilot how close he was to scoring a direct hit. All this happens in less than ten seconds and before the next flight
is ready to make its approach on the target.
When practicing with a gun, shots are taken at either the stationary target, usually a well-worn decommissioned armoured vehicle or on the banner targets located next to the manned turret. In order to assess the pilot’s precision
with the gun, there are a number of highly sensitive microphones placed around both the targets.
“After the dry runs, pilots call ”In hot”
, over the radio, meaning they will drop a practice bomb or fire their gun.”
These microphones are able to determine how many shots were fired and where these shots struck. As with dropping practice bombs, the altitude and angle of attack depends on the training needed for each pilot on the mission. There are often attacks from
several different heights and angles. The distance from which shots are fired also varies.
The three simulated bomb areas contained within BMGR-E consist of “cities” made up of old freight containers. These are used to train pilots to find the correct building while using their infrared target acquisition equipment,
so that they drop their laser-guided bombs onto the correctly targeted building within a town.
Gila Bend AFAF is located just outside BMGR and acts as a diversion airfield for the aircraft using the range, so that if an aircraft has engine trouble or encounters other problems, it does not have to fly far before it can land. There are no aircraft
permanently stationed at the base, but foreign units, both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, regularly deploy to the base when training at BMGR.
In addition to its function as a diversion airfield, Gila Bend is also used for storage and maintenance of the targets and scoring systems used on BMGR. In a storage area of the base, there are rows of old military aircraft and vehicles
that either have been used as targets or are due to be used when the current ones need replacement.
To make the training as realistic as possible, there are established targets that simulate enemy radar systems at various locations around BMGR. From the control room at Luke Air Force Base, “Smokey SAM” rockets can be
launched when aircraft approaches. These rockets are made of foam and are about forty cm tall.
When they are fired they create a long tail of smoke which is either black or white, depending on the type of engine in the rocket. At the same time, the radar simulator will activate and give the pilot a warning in the cockpit that
a missile has been fired at him. He will then have to spot the missile and make the correct evasive manoeuvres.
To increase the realism of the training for the pilots who will be responsible for attacking enemy SAM batteries, a mock-up of an SA-6 missile system has been built, with both radar and launchers. This makes it more realistic when
the pilots need to search for and identify targets using their infrared target acquisition equipment.
After his “run” against the targets, this A-10 breaks away from the area,
before the next A-10 comes in for his run.
The sharp shooting with gun on BMGR is practiced in many ways, from different
heights and angles. Here is an A-10 shooting from the relatively high altitude.
Modern warfare is constantly evolving, and the people around BMGR work hard to improve the training opportunities the pilots have, in order that they are best prepared for battle. One of the needs that has arisen in recent years is to attack small moving
targets with an aircraft’s cannon.
Since it of course is too dangerous to order a poor recruit to drive a car through the desert whilst being shot at, so it was also thought to be to easy for the pilots if a car was installed on a rail and pulled back and forth
along the same route day in, day out. Therefore, the staff at BMGR developed a full size remote-controlled car. The car is not controlled locally, but all the way from Luke AFB.
Such a car is not cheap and as a consequence, the pilots do not aim for the car itself, but for a triangle of tyres pulled behind the car at a safe distance. The wire used to tow the tyres comes from an old target-towing pod.
With the car being remote controlled, it means that it can be driven far more aggressively and take more wild evasive manoeuvres depending on the pilot being trained.
To ensure that the car has high survivability, there are restrictions on what flight angles a pilot must shoot from. None of the pilots are allowed to fire from an angle of forty degrees in front of or behind the car.
BMGR currently has two refurbished remotely controlled Ford Explorer SUVs that can be utilised by Luke AFB.
Everything that happens on BMGR-E is controlled by the 56th Range Management Office, called “Snake Eye” in everyday speech, which is based at Luke AFB, about 150 km from BMGR-E. This is where the whole scoring system is controlled, radar simulators
operated, Smokey SAM’s are fired and the remote controlled car is steered from. This is also where the pilots that have been out on the shooting range eventually come for a thorough debriefing after mission.
When air-to-air missions are flown, the aircraft is equipped with an Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI) pod. This long thin pod is mounted on one of the aircraft’s weapon pylons and collects data about the aircraft’s
speed, altitude, direction and so on. This information is streamed live to Snake Eye, where those who control the exercise from the ground can see a 3D image of the air battle taking place.
All data from the exercise is saved and can be seen by the pilots after the mission. Here they have the opportunity to review the mission in great detail, among other things, a computer generated “this is what you saw from your
cockpit at the time” image for each pilot, so that pilots get the most out of the debriefing. Should the connection to Snake Eye fail, all data is stored in the ACMI pod and can be downloaded manually after the mission.
It’s not only sharp shooting that the pilots are practicing when they are on BMGR.
There is placed various moch-ups of Russian military vehicles that pilots can use
their targetpods on, at nearby Gila Bend AFAF.
Everything that happens on BMGR-E is controlled by the 56th Range Management
Office, called “Snake Eye” in everyday speech, which is based at Luke AFB
Assessing pilot precision with BDU-33 practice bombs uses, as mentioned earlier, triangulation via two video cameras mounted on towers out on the shooting range. These cameras transmit live images back to an operator in Snake Eye, who sees the images
from the two cameras on a split screen.
When the software detects the white puff as the BDU-33 practice bomb hits the ground, the screen freezes. Then the operator uses a joystick to drag a line over the cloud of smoke on the top screen. With a click of the button on
the joystick, the cursor moves down to the lower part of the screen where the cloud of smoke is again marked with another click.
The software can then calculate how far from the target and in which direction the bomb landed. The distance and direction are reported via radio to the range controller at the shooting range, who then tells the pilot the results.
This rapid feedback enables the pilot to make any adjustments needed during his next attack.
A big thank you to Teresa Walker, Public Affairs Specialist, 56th Range Management Office, Luke AFB, and Mr. Chuck “Taco” Gutierrez, Chief, Air & Range Operations, 56th Fighter Wing, both of whom made this article