Bats hit the mark – guidance in the dark

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Charles McNiel
  • 746th Test Squadron

The men and women of the 746th Test Squadron, or 746 TS, get after the objectives of the 2018 National Defense Strategy every day. In fact, the “Bats” have been at the leading edge of these efforts since before it was cool!

For more than 60 years, the 746 TS has tested and evaluated critical guidance, navigation and timing technologies for strategic air, space, land and sea applications. Gen. Arnold Bunch Jr., commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, believes AFMC is the Air Force’s most important major command to achieve the objectives of the 2018 NDS. I couldn’t agree more!

At the grand strategic level, AFMC puts unparalleled economic, scientific and political pressure on our adversaries as we develop, test and field technologically superior air, space and cyber defense weapon systems. Like all of Arnold Engineering Development Complex, the 746 TS plays a critical role in this endeavor.

Simply put, we prove the systems that provide access to any area on the planet, from any domain, to punish our adversaries and defend the homeland. The technologies and systems the 746 TS evaluates are critical to the United States’ ability to compete with, deter and win against capable adversaries, such as China and Russia.

Our strategic inertial testers have proven nearly every ballistic missile and strategic aircraft guidance system since the 1960s. From Titan to Peacekeeper to Minuteman to the next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and bombers, the experts at the 746 TS employ precision rate measurement tables and centrifuges to ensure the ability of these weapon systems to hold our adversaries at risk anywhere, any time.

When the Apollo 13 spacecraft suffered an explosion in space in 1970, it tumbled wildly off course. Their inertial guidance system allowed them to recover to a survivable trajectory, but only after 746 TS inertial testers identified a design flaw in that system prior to launch. Without that discovery, the three Apollo astronauts would likely not have returned safely back to Earth.

Our enterprise testers have evaluated nearly every military inertial and/or GPS-based navigation system that currently flies in the air, drives on land or cruises on or below the surface of the sea. We test the functionality, accuracy and integration of these systems before they are fielded to ensure they can precisely deliver people, cargo, sensors and weapons to their intended locations.

Right now the 746 TS is executing congressionally mandated GPS cyber vulnerability testing on more than 50 military aircraft, developmental navigation system testing on U.S. Navy destroyers, and modernized resilient GPS receiver testing for fielding on more than 500,000 U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps air, land and sea platforms, among many other programs.

Our navigation warfare testers generate critical threat-based, deployable GPS contested environments for dozens of test and training programs each year for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, Missile Defense Agency, law enforcement, industry, international partners and more.

NAVWAR test and training assures freedom of operations in GPS-denied areas around the globe. In 2019, we executed NAVWAR events in 23 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. This week, a 746 TS NAVWAR team concluded jamming for RED FLAG 20-1 on the Nevada Test and Training Range, the latest in the series of DOD’s premier large force exercises in which hundreds of air, space and cyber operators refined their combat tactics. Next month, we will host the 18th annual NAVFEST event at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, where more than 20 defense and industry programs will test their equipment against advanced, large-scale GPS threats.

Our engineers, technicians, and support professionals enable this entire mission. We develop, test, field and sustain most of our own capabilities including 130-plus jammers, support vehicles, trailers and generators.

We will field a new high-power jammer this year with the ability to track moving targets, to reduce the required number of jammers and test times up to 75 percent. We pioneer direct-inject GPS capabilities to reduce the need for open-air radiation, to preserve flight safety and efficiency for civil and military aircraft. We design and field our own high accuracy test reference systems, jammer communication and control systems, and test equipment racks that fly, drive and sail on test platforms. We expose equipment to flight temperatures, pressures and vibration before tests to reduce risk. Our operations support capability “feeds the beast” with the parts, equipment and expertise to execute our full range of mission activity all across the nation.

I am proud to lead the world’s greatest guidance and navigation test professionals, who relentlessly pursue the objectives of the NDS every day. The Bats of the 746 TS are helping to make AEDC, AFMC, the USAF and the entire DOD, “second to none!”