ROC functioning force behind Holloman ranges

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
The target: an old abandoned building that is believed to house terrorist groups and activities. The joint terminal attack controllers take position and radio in their observations: two tanks parked on the southeast side of the building and two armed men at the building's western point of entrance. The JTACs keep constant surveillance on the target while they scan the desert terrain for a spot to take cover from the impending blasts.

Moments later, a GBU-12 guided missile fired from an MQ-9 Reaper strikes one of the parked tanks, followed by another that strikes the second tank. As the smoke clears, the JTACs move toward the building, with the MQ-9 still hovering above. The JTACs take control of the building, and are met with no resistance.

This scenario did not take place in a remote location outside of the U.S.; but rather on Holloman's Centennial Range as part of an exercise, and it was one of many training missions supported by the 49th Operations Support Squadron's Range Operations Center. The ROC is responsible for monitoring all training missions that take place on Holloman's three ranges; the Centennial Range, Oscura Bombing Range, and Red Rio Bombing Range. The ranges are used by a diverse community not limited to just Holloman personnel.

"We coordinate ground training missions with the Army on a regular basis ... We've had B-1s, B-52s,A-10s all from different bases, and even had Canadians and Australians come to use the ranges," said Gary Atwell, 49th OSS deputy range manager.

One important job of the ROC, which was opened in 2000 in conjunction with the opening of the Centennial Range, is to monitor and track the accuracy of munitions deployed on the range. Computer operators are also able to track and calibrate a Remotely Piloted Aircraft's laser targeting system, and score them based on how accurately they hit their targets.

"We can score any mission for any air user that needs it. We also have laser boards that the MQ-1 and MQ-9 can calibrate their lasers on, which is important for their missions because they can't drop munitions prior to calibrating their lasers," said Mr. Atwell. "If the lasers are off, we are able to tell the pilots what adjustments are needed to make the corrections."

With each of the three ranges encompassing 90,000 acres of land or more, the task of monitoring all missions on the ranges can be tedious. But thanks to the ROC's numerous cameras throughout the three ranges, eyes are always monitoring the various missions.

"We have nine monitors for viewing the ranges, including a security camera for each of the ranges with zooming and 360 degree viewing capabilities," said Kirsten Ullstrom, a computer operator at the ROC. "We also have two bigger monitors that we are able to receive live camera feeds from the RPAs, so we can see whatever they see."

Even with all of the state-of-the-art equipment that the ROC has, it's up to the staff to ensure their mission is accomplished.

"We have multi-million dollar equipment that allows us to monitor everything ... But it's up to the crew that's working to make sure everything runs smoothly," said Mr. Atwell. "The ranges are basically used 24/7, but it's not uncommon to come in at three a.m. even though the work day is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m., and with the anticipation of the F-16 training units coming, our hours are going to be extended."

Ms. Ullstrom added that some of the missions can last well into the night even though they only have a crew of 10 people. The crew is also responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the three ranges. Every year, they dedicate a time period of two weeks to one month to clean and clear each of the ranges.

Clearing the ranges can also be a very tedious task. First, members of the 49th Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight must sweep the range and clear all unexploded ordnances. Once the sweep is complete, ROC members go out and grade all of the roads and fire breaks, and clean and replace all of the numerous targets.

"We have more than 400 targets right now spread out between the three ranges," said Ms. Ullstrom. "Different targets we have include cars, tanks, trains, jets, various buildings including an oil refinery and even cut-outs and dummies of people. Basically anything that the war-fighters can encounter in-theater, we have there ... We built all the buildings ourselves, and it's up to us to keep up with the maintenance of them and clean up the mess if they get destroyed."

The ROC also works with many different agencies to accomplish their missions. In addition to working with Holloman users, they also have a working relationship with local authorities and government agencies, as well as the Bureau of Land Management and other off-base users. The ranges are all located within restricted airspace, and Holloman has over 800,000 acres of airspace associated with it, making it a very valuable asset to the Air Force. Mr. Atwell added that the ROC is the focal point to monitor all operations that happen at the ranges and that the training the ranges offer enhances air crew training and capabilities for future missions in the area of responsibility.