Army testing new weapons technology at proving grounds in Yuma

YUMA, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- The U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds is the Army's premier weapons testing facility.

It's a desolate stretch of Arizona desert that has been used to test and train U.S. Forces since World War II. Now, a new generation of weapons is being put through testing, and at the head of the class is a makeover for what some say is the most formidable main battle tank in the world.

The M1 Abrams.

"This thing has been out here for a while. We are continually updating it, putting different improvements on it to test out in the field, see how they hold up durability-wise," said Test Engineer Robert Wilson.

Wilson and his crew measures and tests the behemoth and its new hardware.

"It's fun to come to work every day, test tanks, get in them every once in awhile, I can't complain," said Wilson. "I get to play with an Abrams all day."

Playing with an Abrams includes testing it up this incline.

"We tested the Abrams on the 30% grade. We are looking to make sure the fuel systems are working properly. Parking brake maybe, a little bit of the steering, maybe a throttle response," said Wilson.

On a sideways road, as the tank turns one way and then the next, to make sure everything still works at a sharp angle.

"We run the side slope in a sinus pattern," said Wilson. "We shut it off on the side slope as well, checking fuel systems, parking brakes, stuff like that."

The upgraded Abrams is called an "M1A2C" by The Pentagon. It includes a new machine gun for the tank commander, improved fire control, with the crew being able to set the distance it wants a shell to explode, better infrared sights, and a new power unit that allows the tank to power communications and sensors without running its 1,500 horsepower gas turbine engine.

All of it has to work at the proving ground first, and the 70-ton tank seems to move effortlessly over miles of trails at the YPG.

"The sheer power of it moving over 70 tons, no problem," said Wilson. "You can obviously see in the videos, it takes off like nothing."

An upgraded tank isn't the only thing being tested. There's new artillery ammunition called ERCA that's been fired at a target 62km (~38.5 miles) away. A 100km (~62.14 miles) shot is in the works.

The Yuma range is huge, but it has to use larger facilities for long-range shots, like the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range in Southern Arizona.

"We have partnered with the Marine Corps and Air Force to use the Barry Goldwater Range on a non-interference basis, and we actually have been doing that," said Larry F. Bracamonte, Technical Director of the Yuma Proving Grounds.

The Yuma Proving Grounds is also testing a new armored multipurpose vehicle, called an AMPV, by firing mortar rounds out the back, in a test to see if the vehicle doesn't shake apart.

"We are testing a mortar system from it to verify if it's reliable, and the structural integrity is going to be there to make sure that system works properly," said Bracamonte.

In another part of the range, a new track system is being tested on a Bradley fighting vehicle, one that will allow tanks to be raised and lowered depending on the terrain, like a lifted Jeep.

"It gives it the ability to set a variable ride height," said Sarah Hogan, Combat Systems Test Officer at the Yuma Proving Grounds. "Better off-road speeds, lower vibrations, so better survivability for the crew and army personnel."

In time, the new adjustable track system will be tested on the Abrams as well, as every one of the military and civilian workers at YPG make sure American soldiers can dominate the battlefield.

"The purpose of testing is to get it ready for combat," said Wilson. "Ultimately, it's going to end up in soldiers or the warfighters' hands. We want that system to be as perfect as it can be and perform flawlessly. That's why we do testing here."

As for paying for all that modernization, so far, the Army Futures Command has requested about $190 billion for the fiscal year 2020, an increase of $8 billion from the year before.