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Ft. Huachuca assures comm equipment for soldiers

Posted at 11:28 PM, May 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-24 12:05:53-04

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - On the east side of Forth Huachuca, you will notice strange structures in the middle of the desert that look almost alien in nature. One is a tall tower painted with red and white stripes. The other is a large white arc reaching high in the air. The third is a big dish-like structure with what look like razors sticking out from the edges.

The good news for anyone in the area - these are not alien.

Those structures make up what is known as the Antenna Test Facility at Fort Huachuca, also known as the ATF. It is a testing ground for communications equipment with the Army and also private contractors.

Lead test officer, Larry Walker, met Nine On Your Side at the test range to explain what exactly they do there.

"We are the army test and evaluation command's principal antennae test facility. We test antennas mounted on vehicles or standalone. As you know, an antennae is a simple electronic device that takes electric power and creates it into radio waves. We test those, we evaluate the characteristics and performance of those antennas," said Walker.

Although an antenna is simple, the Army needs to know how the antennas work and the pattern their radio waves create around it.

That is where the alien-like structures come in.

There are six test ranges using four main structures at the ATF which is one of the largest open-air test facilities in the world.

  • Large arc
  • Small arc
  • Compact range
  • 100 ft. tower

The goal of the test facility is to make sure communications equipment used by soldiers works well and works together.

"The army runs on beans and bullets, but the backbone of the army is communications these days. Everything is electronic communication," said Walker.

One issue is interference. Some vehicles in the army can have more than 20 different communications devices on board. Test officers must make sure they all play nice.

"Different systems will interfere with each other and cause a loss of performance in a system so we design around that," Walker explained.

Walker gave a simple answer when asked if they Army did not do this type of testing.

"Vital information wouldn't get down range to guys on the front line," he said.

In short, the ATF helps make sure soldiers are safe.

Fort Huachuca is in a very rare place geographically which makes it a great location to test communications equipment. The post is located in the Buffalo Soldier Electronic Test Range. If you look on a map that shows ambient radio waves in the environment, you will notice a large dead spot that extends from Sierra Vista to Benson in the San Pedro River Valley. There is little radio interference from outside sources which make it idea to test there.