If you judge the electronic battlefield by the names of the weapon systems to be tested there, you would expect it to be a spectacle of sound and fury.
Military renderings of the proposed battlefield sport all the latest names in weaponry: strategic surface-to-air missiles, airborne interceptors, shoulder-fire surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, air-to-ground missiles and an array of radar and communication jammers.Yet, cattle and sheep will continue to graze off the land; hunters will still stalk their prey in the desert stillness and the buzzing that breaks the silence is more likely to be bugs than planes.
"It will be just about like watching paint dry," said Col. Earl Crosby, with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
With the exception of 100 "threat sites," which are 100-square-foot areas fenced off to keep animals and people out, the valley selected for the new battlefield will look much the same as it does now.
The threat sites will contain a concrete pad and an earthen pad. A trailer containing electromagnetic equipment for the weapons listed above will be parked on one of the pads.
That's all. Just 100 patches of fenced-in land with peculiar-looking pieces of equipment sitting in the middle emitting silent electromagnetic waves. No troops doing maneuvers. No tanks. No gunfire.
"We are more interested in the electrons than we are the bullets and the bombs," Crosby said.
Underground fiber-optic cables will transmit electricity to the equipment and carry encoded data from the 100 sites to the command room at Hill Air Force Base.
No live ammunition will be fired from the ground. Special computers, called "fly-out models," will simulate the line of fire from each weapon on each threat site to planes flying overhead, registering the hits and misses.
Some air-to-ground missiles will be fired at designated equipment on the pads. But the Air Force already launches such missiles from overhead planes to restricted land on the range. Creation of the electronic battlefield will not increase the number of air-to-ground launches, Crosby said.
It will increase the number of airplanes flying over the area, but not immediately.
"By the turn of the century, we estimate about 30 percent more air traffic on the range as a whole," said Dick Hector, a civilian engineer at Hill Air Force Base who coordinates Hill's involvement in the battlefield.
Military officials argued that the increased air traffic would actually be good for the animals grazing on the range.
"The more flights you have, the sooner they get used to it," Crosby said.
The battlefield will test three types of electronic equipment: equipment found at battle fronts; equipment found surrounding command posts in the rear area several miles behind the battle lines and equipment used to protect the homeland, such as the equipment surrounding Moscow, Crosby said.
The front-line electronic equipment will be dispersed at threat sites at the south end of the battlefield. The middle of the battlefield will test equipment found in the rear area, while equipment used in the final defense of a homeland will be tested in the north end of the battlefield.
Planes will fly over the battlefield from south to north as they do now, Crosby said.
Although the battlefield will be managed by the Air Force, all branches of the military are invited to use it.
The battlefield would be the first test range in the United States capable of testing several electronic weapons systems against each other at the same time, Crosby said.
"We can test individual parts. We have a place at Eglin Air Force Base where we can test each of these systems one on one," he said. "But we don't have a place to put the whole environment together."
Crosby expects the battlefield to receive strong support in Congress because it is Congress that has pushed the military to create a testing environment as electronically rich as a modern-day battlefield would be.
The Air Force is so confident of congressional support that it has already scheduled the first test: July 1991. The test will pit planes against approximately 25 radar systems, Crosby said.