U.S. Army Garrison West Point’s Training Support Division is giving kudos to the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, for their work placing heavy targets on the post’s indirect-fire range on Cranberry Mountain.
USAG West Point manages the services, operations and infrastructure not only for the historic U.S. Military Academy, but for the entire installation footprint that includes a 14,000-acre range complex.
West Point’s ranges accommodate an assortment of training functions for the Corps of Cadets and the FBI, such as marksmanship and field training exercises. For the first time this summer, cadets are slated to undergo a combined-arms live-fire exercise that incorporates 155 mm artillery and aerial gunnery with AH-64 Apache helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolt fixed-wing jets.
Alec Lazore, USAG West Point range officer, said this would be the first time the West Point Corps of Cadets participated in such an event. To set them up for success, Lazore and other members of USAG West Point’s Training Support Division wanted to replace the demilitarized M48 Patton tanks that 50 years of mortar and artillery strikes have turned into battered, fragmented hulks.
The plan was to replace these old targets with retired, demilitarized equipment consisting of four 13-ton M106 mortar carriers and four 54-ton M60A3 Patton tanks. Before any work could be done, Huntsville Center needed to develop a plan to transport these vehicles over mountainous terrain in New York’s winter weather.
“Normally you have a flat range – a zero to 10 percent grade – and there is a mountain or some type of backstop or berm to fire against,” said Spencer O’Neal, lead project manager for the Ordnance and Explosives Design Center’s Sustainable Range Program. “But this was an artillery range, and it was a big valley. So, trying to install the new targets 35 percent grade was a challenge.”
The presence of snow, rain, ice and mud only compounded the difficulty of safely dragging the multi-ton vehicles up the mountain and into the target box. The winter conditions inspired the Training Support Division to dub the project Operation Frozen Armor.
Before moving any equipment, however, the first step was identifying and clearing any ordnance that might pose an explosive-hazard risk to personnel on site during equipment-towing and associated construction with target emplacement.
Ken Hewitt, project manager and environmental engineer with OE Design Center, led the project delivery team for this project. The matrix support from the Huntsville Center Engineering Directorate used a “risk map” that showed the explosive-hazard risk as related to the likely locations of old ordnance. The team overlaid that map onto a second map that showed where the work was planned to avoid a high-risk ordnance area and a multimillion-dollar clearance.
Hewitt said completing this review early saves the taxpayer money and helps preserve USMA’s limited training maintenance budget while preserving safety. The approved plan was to clear the road leading to and from the West Point impact area and provide a safe method of towing the targets, while clearing enough ground for safe target emplacement.
“In this case we cleared the ordnance out of the way of the vehicle-tow ahead of time,” Hewitt said. “We cleared for safety issues.”
Movement of all four M106 mortar carriers up the mountain and into the target area is now complete, but moving the heavier M60A3s proved to be more challenging.
Initially, the two on-site bulldozers were not able to safely overcome the steep bedrock outcrop to transport them to their intended locations, and if they couldn’t get the tanks pulled up the mountain, there was a possibility these demilitarized vehicles would need to be scrapped.
“We said, ‘Well, what if we tried something different?’” Hewitt said.
Hewitt suggested new positions in the target box at a lower area on the mountain, and the project delivery team was able to find a way to do this within the scope of the contract.
“They were happy that we were able to secure the funds for them, and to have that relationship with G3 to do that,” Hewitt said. “It was a win-win.”
The four tank targets are not yet emplaced, but Lazore has already expressed his satisfaction in a message to Huntsville Center and their contractor, USA Environmental.
“This will certainly improve West Point's ability to execute indirect fire training for the Corps of Cadets and other training units for years to come,” Lazore wrote, and added that the contractor, as part of their scope for placement of the targets, cleared unexploded ordnance from as far back as 100 years and in “extremely difficult terrain and weather” that included below-freezing temperatures and heavy winds.
“We couldn’t do this exercise without this target placement,” Lazore said, referring to the upcoming combined-arms live-fire exercise.
“Anything we can do for the cadets,” Hewitt said. “It goes a long way. They’re really happy because they have some big, hardened things to shoot at.”