The U.S. Army began the construction of a new high tech live-fire range at Fort Knox that, when finished in 2023, will be only the second of its kind anywhere, said in an official statement.
Called a Digital Air-Ground Integration Range, or DAGIR, the fully computerized range will make it possible for military personnel around the United States, and even abroad, to coordinate and practice accomplishing missions from the ground and air simultaneously.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Rodney Manson, Installation Range Management officer at the Fort Knox Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
The Army established the first-ever DAGIR at Fort Bliss, Texas in 2012. Conceptualized in the 1990s, the idea didn’t begin to materialize at Fort Knox until 2004.
“Since that time, we’ve been primarily working it here,” said Ken Boeglen, DPTMS director. “I think the Army was looking at something along the coast with an impact area that was over water, but eventually it was narrowed down to Fort Knox.”
Yano Range has been designated as the area where the DAGIR system will be emplaced, with the total cost running about $52 million — $26 million for construction and the rest going to instrumentation. An area about eight kilometers long and one to three kilometers wide will be used — roughly 3,000 square acres.
“This is a big project, probably the biggest in Army ranges for the next four or five years,” said Manson. “The range will include target devices, battlefield effects simulators, aerial weapons scoring system; all the stuff that goes into a DAGIR.”
Most ranges are not this large. The Army doesn’t have the ground to do this,” said Manson. “So probably the biggest thing is, it’s the ability for the ground commander to integrate the fires into an objective.”
Boeglen said most live-fire ranges, like the one currently at Yano Range, provide capabilities for only one or two tanks to move forward, fire at targets, and move back.
By comparison, the DAGIR range will allow for training on several different scenarios and qualification requirements, to include individual and platoon tank gunneries, dismounted live-fire exercises, artillery fires, and several capabilities for rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
“If you were into a crawl-walk-run scenario, this would be a walk to… a slow jog in a training scenario,” said Boeglen. “If I were to go through this range, once I get to the National Training Center [at Fort Irwin, California], I would have an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I’m ready to start jogging fast or running.'”
“This truly will be a regional asset,” said Manson.
No construction has started at Yano Range at the moment, although training missions that normally occur there have been shifted over to Wilcox Range in preparation for construction to begin in September or October.
Establishing the range at Yano already has one big cost-saving advantage built in.
“We’re laying it on an existing facility, so a lot of the dirt work doesn’t need to occur,” said Manson. “This range was probably due for an upgrade or refit anyway. This was timely in that we were getting an upgrade to the range, so the good news is all they really have to do is bury some data wire and change a couple of little things. The construction that normally will take two years, we assume will take less.”
Manson emphasized that that doesn’t mean a contractor will have the range done in less time, however. A lot of variables can affect range construction.
“The systems will talk to each other, designate targets, report, then they’ll execute the range in that manner,” said Manson.
Boeglen said a change in strategies and focus on the world stage has created a necessity for U.S. forces to change training, making the DAGIR concept more needed. “We’re getting back to rapid deployments, so the idea of [Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises] is being kicked around again. We did one last year with the 89th [Military Police Brigade] before they were diverted to the [Southwest border support mission],” said Boeglen. “The deployment readiness exercises that the Defense Department wants to execute makes this a good fit for that.”
Boeglen and Manson said there will be a shift in noise levels as they make the transition to the DAGIR range. Wilcox Range is already experiencing heightened levels because of the diversion from Yano. Once Yano construction is complete in 2023, residents in nearby Bullitt County can expect increased noise levels as the DAGIR range goes live.
Environmental engineers at Fort Knox have conducted assessments and communicated the expected changes with Bullitt, Meade and Hardin county leaders.
In the short term, the range is expected bring in a boon to local economies while construction occurs, according to Boegen and Manson, Once the range is complete, Boeglen said it is unclear whether there will be increases in permanent job positions. However, there will be an increase in the transient troop numbers during training cycles.
“This will bring more customers to post and likely make the airfield busier,” said Boeglen.
Manson said overall, the range will add up to a win-win for all.