Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Behind the Gates at Nellis Air Force Base

Home of the fighter pilot, Nellis AFB is one of the busiest bases in the world. Tyson Rininger

Nellis Range Complex
What makes Nellis AFB so valuable and the Red Flag exercise so successful is the Nellis Air Force Range (NAFR) or Nellis Range Complex (NRC). The range contains the largest area of land and controlled military airspace in the continental United States with weather that is reasonably predictable and suitable for year-round flying.

This enormous amount of land encompassed nearly 3,560,000 acres when established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Originally referred to as the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range, Executive Order 9019 returned approximately 937,730 acres to the authority of the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1942. Five years later, the Tonopah Bombing and Gunnery Range turned over an additional 154,584 acres to the DOI. After a few more instances of trading back and forth with the DOI and the Bureau of Land Management, the Nellis Air Force Range, more formally known as the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), currently consists of approximately 2.9 million acres of land. The airspace over an additional five million acres is shared with commercial aircraft encompassing the Nellis Range Complex.

Operating and maintaining the twelve thousand square miles of airspace and land that make up the complex is the job of the 98th Range Wing and the 99th Mission Support Group.

The 98th Range Wing (RANW) operates, maintains, and develops the Nevada Test and Training Range including two local airfields, Creech AFB and the Tonopah Test Range, as well as the instrumentation for Air Warrior at the National Training Center (NTC) and Leach Lake Range. The 98th also works closely with the Department of Defense in support of advanced composite force training tactics development and electronic combat testing. Together with the DOD and the Department of Energy, the 98th further pursues testing requirements and research and development procedures.

Part of the 99th Air Base Wing, the Mission Support Group consists of six different squadrons: 99th Communications Squadron, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron, 99th Mission Support Squadron, 99th Contracting Squadron, 99th Services Squadron, and 99th Logistics Readiness Squadron. Detachment One of the 99th Range Group provides support to the southern portion of the Nellis Range Complex as well as Creech AFB. Detachment Two directs all ACC activities at the Tonopah Test Range Airfield and the Northern Ranges. Both detachments provide support for recovery of emergency or diverted military aircraft during the various exercises.

With direct relation to Red Flag exercises, the 99th is responsible for scoring sites at Belle Fourche, South Dakota; La Junta, Colorado; Dugway, Utah; and Harrison, Arkansas, as well as an instrumentation-support facility located at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. The Nellis Range Complex maintains instrument support facilities and two emergency-divert airfields and they work closely with the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and, of course, the Department of Defense to meet a broad spectrum of range user requirements.

The Nellis Range Complex (NRC) is the largest area of land and controlled military airspace in the lower forty-eight states.

Since the NRC had been designated a major range and test facility by the Department of Defense, the 99th Range Group now acts as the Air Combat Command lead range advocate to provide centralized expertise for the development of ACC test and training ranges. The Range Group operates with the assistance of approximately 600 contractors and nearly 300 military and civil service personnel.

The Nellis Range Complex supports numerous Red Flag and Green Flag exercises along with multiple USAF Weapons School exercises each year. The NRC also hosts the Gunsmoke competition every two years. Operational testing and evaluation missions by the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron on the NRC are supported by upgraded television ordnance scoring systems (TOSS) and state-of-the-art Kineto tracking mount documentation and time-space position information (TSPI) data. Additional capabilities include support for operational flight programs (OFP), qualification operational test and evaluation (QOT&E), tactics development and evaluation (TD&E), and follow-on test and evaluation (FOT&E).

The training range maintains some of the most realistic integrated threat simulator technology in the world. In addition to the assortment of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), antiaircraft artillery (AAA), and acquisition radars operated by personnel from 39th Intelligence Squadron, they also maintain and operate a variety of radar and communications jamming equipment. Coupled with the Nellis Red Flag measurement and debriefing system (RFMDS), these assets provide superior year-round training to U.S. and allied aircrews in both competition and training exercises.

Should real-world circumstances require additional realistic configurations for training, targets can be built or modified quickly. In one example, range contractors transformed a runway configuration from a typical former Warsaw Pact country’s layout to one based on what allied aircrews would see in Iraq using data gathered from intelligence reports and photo reconnaissance missions.

The Nellis Range Complex is one of the most versatile and hazardous ranges in the United States, the perfect environment for honing search-and-rescue skills. Although providing rescue support for air operations over the range is the 66th Rescue Squadron’s secondary mission, its importance is none the less vital to range exercises.

The NRC is located between Las Vegas and Tonopah in southwestern Nevada and consists of five adjacent geographical areas. Those areas include the restricted areas R-4806, primarily used for testing and munitions training; R-4807, used for electronic combat and munitions training; R-4808, used by the Nevada Test Site; R-4809, used primarily as an electronic combat range; and the Desert Military Operating Area, used for air-to-air combat training. The land throughout the complex is mostly barren, consisting of dry washes and lakebeds along with rugged, mountainous terrain and typical desert vegetation.

Much of the complex is comprised of land withdrawn from the Bureau of Land Management, and it’s off-limits to the general public. However, portions of the range are set aside for livestock grazing and the Nevada horse range. Located directly in the center of NRC is the controversial and highly secretive Groom Lake/Area 51 complex which is even off-limits to those using NRC for combat training scenarios.

Excerpted from Red Flag: Air Combat for the 21st Century by Tyson V. Rininger.

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