By Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN, and Jeffrey Creekmore, P.E.
One of the most lethal branches of the military in the fight against violent extremist organizations is the Special Operations Forces. From within the U.S. Navy, that mission-set rests with the Sea, Air, and Land Force—better known as the Navy SEALs.
SEALs are supremely effective because of their ability to operate successfully in a variety of environments and urban settings. The adversary could be lurking anywhere: inside a school room, behind a soda machine, in a hospital room. Nearly any scenario is possible, and to meet this challenge effectively, SEAL teams must train the way they fight. Their training environment needs to replicate real-world scenarios as closely as possible.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) has made supporting realistic training for SEALs a priority—contributing to the lethality of our warfighters by creatively designing, constructing, and maintaining the types of range facilities that these commandos need to succeed on the battlefield. Today, NAVFAC supports the operation of over 100 ranges worldwide. Managing these assets is of crucial importance to supporting America’s national security interests.
CREATIVE RANGE DESIGN
While traditional small arms ranges have been decidedly basic in their application of technology (outdoor firing into an earthen berm), the evolving battlefield and high tempo of modern conflict has demanded that non-traditional design expertise and sophisticated technology be employed to create large, flexible facilities that could be used any time of the day or night, no matter the weather.
Over the past two decades, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has partnered with NAVFAC to design and build specialized facilities with state-of-the-art electronic targets, moveable ballistic partitions, and sophisticated ventilation systems. The two organizations have employed professional movie set designers to recreate the atmosphere of the battlefield environment, right down to the unique smell of the air.
The resulting facilities have not only provided realistic training, their proximity enables SEALs who are home from deployment to spend more time with their families by allowing them to train locally.
NAVFAC’s commitment to providing training ranges does not end with planning, designing, and constructing. To meet requirements over their lifecycle, these facilities must maintain compliance with applicable infrastructure and environmental safety regulations, despite almost daily use and taking fire from some of the most powerful rounds employed. Such a high level of usage presents two challenges: the first is the tremendous maintenance required to keep the ranges functional; the second is the necessity to maximize range availability by getting that maintenance done as quickly as possible.
NAVFAC’s intensive small arms range preventative maintenance, inspection, and certification program ensures that both of these challenges are met.
Through close coordination with maintenance staff that USSOCOM employs at each range, NAVFAC accomplishes an array of repair and replace tasks that exceed what is required for typical facilities.
Ballistic partitions that take millions of rounds of live-fire ammunition fired at point-blank range require constant inspection. Their damaged steel panels require frequent replacement. HEPA filters for ventilation systems that remove lead particulate from air must be checked and replaced before they clog. Bullets and spent brass cartridges collected by steel traps accumulate at a tremendous rate. They have to be safely disposed in accordance with strict environmental regulations. Damage to target carriers, floors, and walls must be repaired as soon as it is found to prevent dangerous ricochet. These requirements are only a sampling of the commitment necessary to sustain a heavily used small arms training facility.
NAVFAC professional engineers also perform periodic inspections and evaluations of ranges— identifying potential problems or deficiencies early and ensuring preventative maintenance actions are being completed as required. Once the engineers identify and develop the scope of the repairs, NAVFAC acquisition personnel use critical contract vehicles in place explicitly for swift resolution of this work.
Identifying potential issues early and then acting quickly to resolve them minimizes range downtime and ensures these facilities remain highly reliable. Constant vigilance, hard work, and attention to detail keep the ranges operational and safe for the warfighters.
The “Single-Story Trainer” is one of many examples of how NAVFAC is advancing innovation to support SEAL preparation. A close-quarter combat facility at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Va., the Single-Story Trainer was turned over to USSOCOM in 2012 and remains one of the premier training facilities of its type in the world. Its characteristics were borne out of the need for realistic training and a desire to keep SEAL operators from having to travel away from home for up to three weeks at a time to train. USSOCOM had asked NAVFAC to create a highly reconfigurable trainer that allowed its teams to practice assaults on rooms and structures with details that closely mimicked actual situations they encountered on the battlefield. NAVFAC delivered an $11.5 million facility with 52 rooms spread over 26,500-ft2. The rooms are formed by walls of 0.5-in thick steel plate covered by a layer of ricochet-stopping ballistic rubber. Decorative styrofoam designed by a former Hollywood set designer is used to recreate the distinctive feel of the urban battle theater. Scenarios include a bank, post office, market and other common buildings that SEALs would expect to find.
The ballistic walls are mounted on steel tracks to allow them to be moved and the entire area is topped by a catwalk, which enables instructors to safely view the training first-hand. Cameras throughout the facility relay video to an adjacent training building to allow remote monitoring and after-action review of training sessions. Designers divided the range into four self-contained zones. This allows up to four groups to train simultaneously, which provides a more productive training time for the units.
Since opening, the Single-Story Trainer has become popular with other military units and local law enforcement, which use the facility whenever gaps in the SEAL team training schedule permit. While this gains facility efficiency for the military and increases partnership with civilian forces, it does increase the maintenance burden—a challenge NAVFAC and USSOCOM support staff continue to meet successfully.
READY TO SUPPORT
NAVFAC’s relationship with USSOCOM, and the success of the Single-Story Trainer, exemplifies the agency’s ability to rise to unique challenges and support naval forces with critical facilities and infrastructure.
As global demands continue to evolve, NAVFAC stands ready to serve in helping increase the capability and readiness of the warfighter, both ashore and at sea.
Rear Adm. Darius Banaji, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN, formerly Commander, NAVFAC Atlantic, is Deputy Director, Defense POW and MIA Accounting Agency; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey Creekmore, P.E., is Small Arms Range Subject Matter Expert, NAVFAC Engineering Criteria & Programs Office; email@example.com.
[This article first published in the September-October 2019 issue of The Military Engineer.]