Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is a United States Army proving ground and one of the largest military installations in the world. It is a subordinate command of the Army Test and Evaluation Command. Featuring six airfields, nearly 2,000 miles of restricted airspace, 240 miles of road courses, and one of the longest overland artillery ranges in the nation, Yuma Test Center is the Army’s center for testing nearly every item in the ground combat arsenal. Weapon systems tested include artillery and mortars, armored vehicles, helicopters and unmanned aircraft, cargo and personnel air drop systems, countermeasures to the threat of roadside bombs, and much more. Located in southwestern La Paz County and western Yuma County in southwestern Arizona, U.S., about 30 miles (48 km) north-east of the city of Yuma, it encompasses 1,307.8 square miles (3,387.2 km²) in the northwestern Sonoran Desert.
The proving ground conducts tests on nearly every weapon in the ground combat arsenal. Nearly all the long-range artillery testing for U.S. ground forces takes place here in an area almost completely removed from urban encroachment and noise concerns. Restricted airspace controlled by the test center amounts to over 2,000 square miles (5,000 km2). Yuma Proving Ground has the longest overland artillery range (40 miles or 64 kilometres) in the nation, the most highly instrumented helicopter armament test range in the Department of Defense, over 200 miles (300 km) of improved road courses for testing tracked and wheeled military vehicles, over 600 miles (1,000 km) of fiber-optic cable linking test locations, and the most modern mine and demolitions test facility in the western hemisphere. Realistic villages and road networks representing urban areas in Southwest Asia have been constructed and are used for testing counter-measures to the threat of roadside bombs.
The General Motors Desert Proving Ground – Yuma opened at the proving ground in late July 2009. General Motors built the facility at a cost of more than $100 million after closing its desert automotive test facility in Mesa, Arizona, that had been in operation since 1953. The new facility allows Army automotive testers to test their wheeled vehicles all year-round. It is estimated that the track can be used to test about 80 percent of the Army’s wheeled vehicle fleet. More than 3,000 people, mostly civilians, work at the proving ground, which is the largest employer in Yuma County. In a typical year, over 500,000 artillery, mortar and missile rounds are fired, 36,000 parachute drops take place, 200,000 miles (320,000 km) are driven on military vehicles, and over 4,000 air sorties are flown from the proving ground’s Laguna Army Airfield. About 10 percent of the proving ground’s workload is training. In a typical year, dozens of units come to the facility for realistic desert training, especially before deploying overseas.
Yuma Proving Ground’s clean air, low humidity, skimpy rainfall—only about 3 inches (76 mm) per year—and annual average of 350 sunny days, add up to almost perfect testing and training conditions. Urban encroachment and noise concerns are nonexistent problems, unlike at many other military installations. Of the four extreme natural environments recognized as critical in the testing of military equipment, three fall under the management authority of Yuma Proving Ground. Realistic natural environment testing ensures that American military equipment performs as advertised, wherever deployed around the world. The proving ground manages military equipment and munitions testing at three locations: The Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska; the Tropic Regions Test Center operating in Panama, Honduras, Suriname, and Hawaii; and at the Yuma Test Center located at Yuma Proving Ground. The common link between these test centers is “environmental testing,” which makes the proving ground the Army’s environmental test expert.
Since its early days, Yuma Proving Ground has been a desert environmental test center for all types of military equipment and materiel. However, developmental and a variety of other types of testing of artillery systems and ammunition, aircraft armament and targeting systems, mobility equipment, and air delivery systems, not necessarily desert environmental-related, now comprise the bulk of the workload. Yuma Proving Ground tests improvised explosive devices, commonly known as IEDs, the number-one killer of American service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles fly at the proving ground each year from the six airfields located at the proving ground, as do helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft conducting personnel and cargo parachute drops. A heavy investment in technology and a highly skilled soldier-civilian workforce makes the proving ground a significant social and economic component of the local community. Many friendly foreign nations take advantage of the test center’s excellent facilities and highly skilled workforce.