US ARMY TROPIC REGIONS TEST CENTRE PUTS MRAP THROUGH ITS PACES
By Mark Schauer, ATEC
31 Mar 12. During the worst years of the Iraqi insurgency, the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle was developed to protect American Soldiers from the destructive power of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.
U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, or YPG, played an extensive role in the rapid initiative to field these life-protecting vehicles, conducting punishing durability testing on virtually all of its variants.
The proving ground, which is located in the desert of southwestern Arizona, has terrain and climate that closely matches those of Iraq, which made it ideal for testing the vehicles under realistic conditions. With the vehicle having proved its mettle and tenacity both here and in theater, the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle, or MRAP, was tested at YPG’s Cold Region Test Center, or CRTC, at Fort Greeley, Alaska, in the winter of 2010-11, leaving tropics as the last climate in which it had never been put through its paces.
“As operations in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, the armed forces are becoming more focused on the need to test equipment in arctic and tropical environments,” said Ernest Hugh, director of U.S. Army Tropic Regions Test Center, or TRTC, a subordinate command of YPG.
Unlike the other test centers, however, TRTC owns no land and must rely on the permission of host nations to conduct evaluations. Though this is obtained with relative ease thanks to TRTC’s strong rapport with the American embassies in the foreign nations in which it conducts tests, there are still the challenges of finding and improving a suitable test site, transporting equipment to it, and housing personnel for multi-month missions far from home.
When TRTC conducted its first test in the nation of Suriname in 2008, it took the efforts of hundreds of people and scores of local contractors to make it a success.
“During the first test, we were completely new to the country,” said Julio Zambrano, test officer on the MRAP test. “We didn’t know the culture or the normal way of operating. It was a groundbreaking experience with lots of lessons on what to do and what not to do.”
Though the test was completed five weeks ahead of schedule, the 20-person crew experienced a great many hardships. The test took place near Moengo, a town of about 7,000 people, and though the crew’s housing was upscale by local standards, it was substandard to typical American expectations.
The crew was also isolated: the capital city of Paramaribo was 60 miles away and accessible only by unimproved roads, meaning they only traveled there one day per month. Additionally, throughout the test there were constant concerns from local citizens about the scope and duration of the testing, which required a great deal of deft diplomacy on the part of the testers.
When the MRAP project manager expressed interest in conducting a similar durability test in Suriname in 2011, TRTC officials were determined to maximize convenience and minimize costs.
“We went into this test with a whole new philosophy,” said Terry Barton, TRTC’s site manager in Suriname. “We can get the contractor to do things with fewer people and much cheaper than the first test. We’ve learned a lot and come a long way in our knowledge of how to work in Suriname.”
Though the MRAP test required a long test course like the Stryker evaluation, TRTC officials were keen to find a more centrally-located facility. After significant inquiries, TRTC officials found a promising site near the village of Afobaka that addressed many of the shortcomings of their prior one. Connected to Paramaribo by a paved and well-maintained highway and close to an airstrip and several other small towns, the site would be easily accessible for personnel and supplies, as well as emergency vehicles in case of an accident. The dirt road course itself snaked through 19 mil