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Fort Huachuca facility tests Army electronics to make sure they are battle ready

Posted at 12:00 AM, Jun 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-24 03:03:41-04

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Soldiers on the battlefield depend on their equipment to work, and the people who make sure Army electronics perform are based at Fort Huachuca.

The Blacktail Canyon Electromagnetic Environmental Effects test facility is nestled deep in the interior of Fort Huachuca, a relatively long drive from the post's entrance. They are the ones who make sure soldiers can depend on the electronic equipment they use.

Johnny Douglas is the test lead at the facility. He gives Nine On Your Side a tour and tells us what exactly they do.

"Electromagnetics are primarily radio frequency things, similar to what comes off your cell phone, TV tower, comes off tactical communications, comes off radar, comes off other types of transmitters on the battlefield," said Douglas.

At Blacktail Canyon they test Army electronics to make sure the ambient electromagnetic noise from everything on the battlefield does not interfere with the device being tested. Additionally, they must test to see if the radio frequencies being emitted by an Army device do not interfere with other Army devices nearby.

For instance, testers will bring in a large vehicle into the test area and turn on all the equipment. They simulate the electromagnetic noise on the battlefield to make sure all electronics on board work properly. Also, all equipment has to play together, meaning when a soldier uses the radio it cannot interfere with the computer.

Douglas says they test everything from the very small to the very large.

"As small as the digital dog tags the warfighters are supposed to get to something as large as a tactical vehicle," he said.

The test areas are both outside and inside the facility. Four anechoic chambers make up the inside. For those who don't know what that is, imagine a large steal box lined with special, pointed cones on all walls. These chambers help isolate certain radio frequencies inside, and keep them from getting out into the rest of the facility. Imagine it like an audio recording booth with foam-lined walls, but for electromagnetic waves.

Douglas gives a simple answer when I ask why they do these tests.

"If you interfere with what the warfighter is doing, he can't do his job, he can't communicate. If it impacts the platform he can't use that platform to keep him safe, move out, shoot, and communicate," said Douglas.
As the Army continues to advance technologically, it could mean we will see even more electronics on the battlefield.
"C4i (command, control, communication, computers, and intelligence) systems on these vehicles are getting more complex, more information is bouncing around. Information is your power multiplier," said Douglas.
With more electronics, that means more testing. Douglas expects their workload at Blacktail Canyon to increase four-fold over the next few years for various reasons. To compensate for that, they are currently expanding the facility to add more test space and more storage space.