Soldier Fires On Apache With Live Ammo During War Games At Fort Irwin

The National Training Center, which is located at Fort Irwin in California, is the ultimate playground sandbox for the Army. Vast ranges, multiple mock cities (MOUT sites), a cutting edge tracking and combat evaluation system, austere airfields, closed airspace and even its very own resident adversary ground and air opposition force (OPFOR). All these things combine to make the NTC the ideal training ground for US and international land combat units to go to war without ever really going to war.

The NTC achieves hyper-realistic training possible by using the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES), which resembles laser tag. For small arms, MILES uses a laser emitter with a barrel plug device known as a blank firing adapter (BFA), which allows blank rounds to be fired with an added margin of safety. To emphasize safety, Fort Irwin rigidly compartmentalizes live and blank ammunition.

Even with these measures in place, somehow, on the morning of May 13, a soldier equipped with a MILES outfitted rifle fired on an AH-64 Apache with live ammunition. Once it was realized that the soldier was firing live rounds, the exercise was halted and the Apache made a precautionary emergency landing. Army Times reports that the Apache, which is designed to shrug-off small arms hits, had about four impacts from the soldier’s live-fire attack but was not severely damaged.

The soldier involved was from Fort Lewis and on assignment to bolster Fort Irwin’s resident 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, which plays the opposing force role against units visiting the sprawling installation. The visiting forces at the time of the event were also from Fort Lewis, including the Apache that was inadvertently attacked and a Stryker Brigade.

Investigators are trying to figure out where the live ammunition came from and how it ended up in the soldier’s rifle. Apparently, the MILES barrel plug fitted to his weapon was removed ballistically by the rounds that the soldier fired.

Ken Drylie, the Army’s spokesman at Fort Irwin seemed just as flabbergasted with the situation as anyone else.

“That’s the $100 question right now,” Drylie said. “That unit shouldn’t have had live ammo. It’s a really weird accident, but it’s an accident.”

The mishap is making headlines at a fairly inopportune time for Fort Irwin as a high-profile episode of History Channel’s Top Gear America aired this week featuring Fort Irwin exclusively, including soldiers repeatedly firing on the hosts with MILES equipped weapons.

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.