YPG Viewed as a Hotbed of Sensor Testing

2013-08-30 23:34:57

Sensors are all around us and have been a part of nature since the dawn of living organisms.
Plant and animal life of all types recognize and measure light, motion, temperature, vibration, sound, and many other things.

People over the centuries have developed numerous mechanical and electronic sensors that recognize and measure many of these same things. Think of thermometers used to measure temperature, motion detectors that turn on house lights or touch-sensitive lamps that dim or brighten by touching the base.

For military forces, sensors have been critical for hundreds of years — though, for most of that time, sensing devices were crude. In today’s world, the development and use of electronic sensors has exploded — they are now small, reliable and feature pinpoint accuracy.

The smart deployment and use of sensor-provided information has become critical to ensuring battlefield success.

We often think of sensors as being primarily visual in nature, but the sensor world is much broader. Today’s military sensors monitor a myriad of things, from acoustic sensors that measure sound, detectors that measure infrared transmissions and many more. Sensors have grown in sophistication to the point that unmanned aircraft and unmanned ground vehicles of multiple sizes are being designed specifically as sensor platforms.

Grant Ware, director of YPG’s Air Combat Test Directorate, says sensor testing at YPG is a growing workload component. “Sensor work at YPG has been growing for years and makes up 15 to 20 percent of the air combat workload,” he said. “People in my directorate have developed quite an expertise in this area.”

YPG consists of three extreme environment test centers — desert, cold and tropic — that offer customers the benefits of a real world test bed. Many sensors are tremendously susceptible to extreme natural climates. For instance, a night vision device may work well in the open desert of Arizona, but maybe not so well amid frigid arctic tundra or under a dense triple canopy jungle. Do sensor performance characteristics change as they move from one extreme environment to another? Testers and equipment developers need to know and understand these changes.

Col. Reed Young, YPG commander, says this is especially significant as the Department of Defense shifts its military strategic focus from Southwest Asia to the Pacific. This could have a particularly important impact on YPG’s Tropic Regions Test Center, which conducts testing operations in some of the most challenging tropical environments on the globe.

Ernie Hugh, director of the Tropic Regions Test Center, says some developers feel natural environment testing can be bypassed by chamber testing.

“Engineers and other developers design, or even over-design, equipment to be as reliable as possible,” explained Hugh, “but when you combine all the factors of an extreme environment into one test at a single time, results that were never predicted can come up.”

He pointed out that communications and other electronic transmissions are severely impacted by thick jungle canopies and provided several more examples. The XM8 rifle went through testing at TRTC that saw it fired day after day for weeks. The rifle was cleaned each afternoon before being stored overnight inside a building. The combination of rain and pervasive humidity, however, caused corrosion to be visible each morning.

The Joint Chemical Agent Detector (JCAD) is a hand-held sensor intended to automatically detect, identify, quantify, and warn users of the presence of nerve, blister, and blood chemical agents. During a recent two week TRTC test, natural gaseous substances created by decomposing matter on the jungle floor caused JCAD indicators to register danger, though no lethal substances were in the area.

“As good as we make equipment, the last thing the soldier wants is for that item to let him or her down on the battlefield,” said Hugh. “He or she needs that communication now, or that weapon to fire now, especially in times of distress.”

A firm believer in the value of natural environment testing, Hugh boils his feelings down to a simple statement. “If we, as a nation, decide to place our men and women in combat in a jungle environment, we must make sure our equipment is up to par,” he said. “It behooves us to know that materiel works in all the extreme YPG environments.”

Chuck Wullenjohn is the public affairs officer for Yuma Proving Ground. He can be reached at