The Saylor Creek Bombing Range is located about 25 miles southeast of Mountain Home AFB in Idaho. The range spans over 100,000 acres and is one of the most advanced in the country, drawing USAF aircraft from around the coutry and even allied aircraft from overseas. These foreign aircraft often times prepare for participating in exercise Red Flag by flying missions out of Mountain Home AFB to the Saylor Creek Range in the weeks leading up to the exercise. According to one source the range is described as being "covered with simulated hostile radar facilities, most of which are moveable electronic "threats," like those used on the Nellis Range in Nevada and elsewhere. Simulated surface to air missile batteries, employing "Smokey SAM" simulated rockets, are in use on the range. Visual targets, electronic warfare training, and live bombing are also components of the range's function."
As you can tell, this is not just some basic gunnery range. The video below shows A-10s from the 124th Fighter Wing busting up remote-controlled Humvees near a mock village, giving us just a glimpse of the facility's capabilities.
The idea behind all this is to make training as realistic as possible. Since A-10s are often tasked with taking out moving targets, hitting derelict tank hulks just doesn't always do the trick. That's where adapting surplus vehicles into remote controlled targets comes into play. Because inert ordnance is used—in this case laser-guided 500lb GBU-12 bombs—a single remote controlled vehicle can be used over and over, just like their full scale aerial target cousins. If the bomb drops land within a certain number of feet of the target it is still considered a kill because the blast of the GBU-12 would disable or destroy the target if the bomb were live instead of filled with concrete. As for the A-10's 30mm GAU-8 Avenger cannon—well nothing lasts long against it.
The range is dotted with a mock airfield, villages and other structures, and can also be used by ground forces for training, including practicing for military operations in urban terrain (MOUT). It is especially useful for USAF military police to train in an air base installation-like setting, as well as for combat controllers and even PJs as you can see in the images below. But mainly the range supports A-10s and AH-64 Apaches based at Gowen Field in Boise, and Strike Eagles and visiting aircraft stationed at Mountain Home AFB nearby.
366th Operations Support Squadron that runs the Saylor Creek Range won the Defense Logistics Agency Range of the Year award in 2016. According to a USAF article, the competition included "layout, overall range capabilities, reutilization totals, cleanliness of the facility, overall appearance, and what's been accomplished using DLA equipment." Curtis Viall, a range officer, described how his unit fills the range with surplus items as targets:
"Generally, the ranges have to buy soft targets that are made of plywood and cardboard. An alternative to these soft targets is to use a vehicle that has been deemed excess or unserviceable… Finding valuable ways to utilize excess property, vehicles and equipment on the range provides our aircrews realistic tactical targets and saves a significant amount of money. Last year, over a thousand vehicles were reutilized on ranges, saving thousands of dollars."
"We typically acquire tanks, self-propelled and towed artillery, armored personnel carriers, (shipping) containers, Humvees and construction equipment. Once at the range the vehicles are prepped to go on range as targets. In some cases targets require no modification and can go directly onto the range to be used, but quite often we will make modifications to make them look more realistic.”
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