VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE --The 17th Test Squadron Detachment 4 is a tenant unit stationed at Vandenberg and is responsible for testing all major equipment changes on both the Eastern and Western Launch Ranges, or as they are better known, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Vandenberg AFB.
The 17 TS Det. 4 focuses on enhancing AFSPC's space-lift and ballistic missile test capabilities through operational tests and evaluation of Western and Eastern Range modernization programs.
“When new systems are being delivered to the range for space-lift or test launches, or when the existing systems are upgraded in a significant manner, we are included in that process and provide operational testing and feedback evaluation,” said Maj. Randall Gardner, 17th Test Squadron Det. 4 commander. “There is contactor testing that occurs when the system is created, then there is developmental testing, where the system is tested to see if it will meets specifications and the requirements that are demanded of it. Then you have us – we verify that it will meet the operator’s needs, and that the system will ‘play nice’ with the infrastructure already in place. We don’t want to have, for example, a weather system installed that is erroneously saying there are lightning strikes outside when it’s a blue sky.”
Although now under separate commands, the 17th TS Det. 4 still works closely with the acquisition community and Launch Ranges prior to the testing phase, to increase the likelihood of a test success.
“We used to be attached to Air Force Space Command, about 6 years ago, now we are part of Air Combat Command,” said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Grice, 17th TS Det. 4 superintendent. “But the Air Force Instruction changed, which stated that the test organization needs to be separate from the organization that is going to be using the system. We needed to separate ourselves so that we could provide an unbiased opinion. We realized we couldn’t do that when we were part of the same unit, we needed to provide an independent assessment.”
Every new system or upgrade can often take years to implement, from planning stages until final evaluation.
“We read through the requirements documents that went into the acquisition process,” said Gardner. “Based on those requirements that were spelled out in those documents we write our test measures based on that. It will can take a year or two to write a test plan and then we have to get it approved, and then we actually conduct on-the-ground testing over 30 days or so in a simulated environment.”
Knowing how every system of the Launch Range works together is essential in order to change or upgrade any other component.
“We test any system on the range that AFSPC needs us to test – telemetry systems, command transmitters, radars, optics, communications, and command and control,” said Gardner. “Whenever something new is going out on the range, we have to ask ourselves what is it going to tie into? What is it going to talk to? Is that data going to flow correctly across the data lines? Does it need additional data lines? When the data gets to the far end is it in the right format? We need our people to know the Range, know how it operates, and how the equipment is used. Of course no one is going to know how every little piece ties into everything else, but we know where to start and what questions to ask.”