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White Sands test center records nearly 5,500 missions in 2017

Multiple Launch Rocket System kicks up clouds of dust while firing during a test on White Sands Missile Range in 2015. (Source: White Sands Missile Range)

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE – By the time the ball dropped in Times Square, White Sands Missile Range’s test center had racked up 5,489 missions for the year.

“We’ve been busy,” White Sands Test Center commander Col. Eric C. Rannow said in a news release. “But the country needs reliable, cutting-edge technology that allows our military to defeat any adversary, anytime, anywhere. No place on Earth can test those systems like White Sands.”

Included in the year-end numbers are 293 “hot” test events, according to the WSMR release.

A hot test means WSTC scientists, engineers and technicians fired a missile or rocket or some other thing that flies. Additionally, the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility conducted 146 laser tests.

The U.S. Air Force sponsored 1,614 training missions over the range’s 3,200 square miles of airspace, 458 of those involving F-16 fighter jets.

One of WSTC’s biggest jobs is making sure weapons old, experimental and newly fielded actually work in all of the conditions where American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines may use them. A lot of that falls on the center’s Survivability and Vulnerability Directorate, the news release stated.

Over the past 12 months, the SV directorate ran 465 events involving some sort of nuclear environment. It also tested more than 80 individual parts to see how they stood up to various conditions, did 50 electromagnetic assessments and 98 environmental tests in conditions like extreme heat, cold and vibration.

WSTC also took its show on the road. Missions have included testing in the Pacific and in Europe.

Much of the center’s equipment – like telemetry, frequency monitoring, meteorology, communications and flight safety – can relocate to far-flung test locations when needed, the news release stated.

WSTC has more than 800 test employees and contractors. Right now, the center is in an annual shutdown, which this year runs Dec. 18 through Jan. 5, 2018.

“It’s an opportunity to do needed maintenance and upgrades to the system and afford employees the opportunity to spend time with family,” said WSMR acting director of Range Operations Benny Favela.

Cox Range Control Center will do power supply and generator load testing, and Favela said they also will test the building’s smoke alarms.

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