News: Use it or lose it: Business booming at Cherry Point ranges
Story by Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki
CHERRY POINT, N.C. - Use it or lose it. Marines practice their warfighting skills on a nearly daily basis with that basic tenet in mind. One way 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing pilots, and those of every military branch, keep their shooting and bombing skills sharp is on two bombing targets east of Cherry Point.
The ranges, known as BT-9 and BT-11, fall under the administration of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. The range’s primary purpose is to provide adequate training facilities for tenant units performing live-fire training exercises. The ranges have been active since Cherry Point’s birth during World War II.
“It provides a ready asset close by for them to conduct their training,” said Mark Condra, the supervisor of the range. “All kinds of aircraft and even some ground troops come to practice air support. It provides the opportunity to do integrated operations or joint operations.”
The range provides support for aircraft to practice nearly any kind of air support scenario. There are mock convoys of enemy vehicles, there are barges to simulate enemy shipping and even a runway with aircraft on it to practice strafing enemy airfields. There are also integrated anti-aircraft defenses simulated by radars and “smoky SAMs” so pilots can learn how to evade and defeat enemy air defenses. There are even remote-controlled boats that can tow targets so pilots can bomb moving targets.
“When the range was designed and as it’s grown over the years, the people before me have tried to put in different target arrays that would simulate the types of targets that the aircrew may see if they go into a hostile environment,” said Condra.
Most ordnance dropped on the ranges here are not actually live explosive ordnance. Usually, they are dummy bombs that let out a puff of smoke on impact to help range monitors gauge accuracy. Pilots do drop live ordnance, but there are limits on the size of the bombs depending on where the bomb is intended to land. Range towers with cameras track points of impact and score pilots on their bombing runs.
Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 uses the range to practice bombing before going to exercises in Yuma, Ariz., to get their skills as sharp as possible before the exercise.
“Things look quite a bit different from the air whether it’s an aircraft or a vehicle,” said Capt. Trevor Selter, the supply officer of the squadron. “The ranges at BT-11 have different targets to give our pilots the opportunity to see that difference. It benefits our students because they’re able to practice their basic air-to-surface (maneuvers) before going out west to Yuma where they drop live ordnance.”
Usually, aircraft train in flights of two. However, the size and variation of targets available creates an opportunity for large-scale mock operations. Navy, Marine and Air Force aircraft regularly work together to bomb targets just as they would in a deployed scenario, Condra said.
“We take the job very seriously,” said Condra. “It’s our job to try to ensure we provide training opportunities for the Marines so they can get what they need done, done. We think it’s an important job, and we all love doing it.”