posted on Jun, 20 2010 @ 06:24 PM
Sandia established Tonopah Test Range in 1957, but it has mostly transitioned to an Air Force facility since the 1980s. Currently, the Sandia range
areas at TTR are staffed by approximately 113 personnel including 22 full-time Sandia employees, with the remainder being contractors who provide site
support (security, maintenance and operations, medical, fire, rescue, and hazmat response).
In December 2008, the national Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) issued a Record of Decision (ROD) "affirming support for the test range as part of the
complex transformation effort." The ROD calls for continuation of flight test activities at TTR, revitalization of some facilities and
infrastructure, and possible changes to the footprint and operating model.
The Obama administration’s FY11 congressional budget request included mentioned TTR: “Funding in FY2011 also supports the Tonopah Test Range (TTR)
in Nevada, providing unique capabilities to air drop nuclear bomb test units. These capabilities allow TTR to support DSW’s [Directed Stockpile
Work] ability to perform surveillance testing on nuclear bombs and their compatibility with US Air Force bombers and fighters . . . .”
Since 1992, there have been more than a dozen NNSA and DOE studies to determine the feasibility of closing the Sandia portion of TTR altogether
(presumably Air Force activities would be unaffected). Most studies, however, concluded that the flight test mission at TTR in support of nuclear
stockpile surveillance is vital and that since TTR infrastructure is old and should be upgraded, the nuclear weapons flight-testing mission could be
transferred to DoD and performed elsewhere.
The December 2008 ROD concluded that flight-testing would remain at TTR for cost reasons, paving the way for activities in support of the B61 nuclear
weapon Life Extension Program. One Sandia manager has cited the “wonderful relationship” with the Air Force at the Nevada Test and Training Range,
adding that "a new TTR business model may involve Sandia procuring some support services from the USAF when it’s mutually advantageous."
During the height of the Cold War, TTR conducted approximately 300 development and surveillance flight-tests each year and had five operating Sandia
departments, each with a senior manager. As of 2010, Sandia conducts 12 to 15 surveillance flight-tests and two “work for others” (any work funded
by an agency or entity other than DOE/NNSA) test series of four to six weeks’ duration annually.
Sandia managers are exploring the possibility of initiating a new business/operating model such as operating in a “campaign mode,” with a core of
Sandia personnel assigned full-time to keep the range operational, supported by a cadre of Sandia employees and contractors to staff the site only
during test weeks.
The Air Force operates the airfield at TTR. On 29 October 2001, the 98th Range Wing was activated at Nellis with the 98th Northern Range Support
Squadron providing management oversight for TTR, Tolicha Peak, and the Northern Ranges and is responsible for "coordinating contractor support for
tenant organizations, providing support to deployed forces, operating the TTR airfield in support of deployed forces and as an emergency divert base
for fighter, bomber and transport aircraft flying on the range, authorizing airfield access, overseeing Northern Range operational activities (1.8
million acres), controlling range access, and providing initial response on-scene command for security, fire protection, environmental incidents and
In September 2005, the 57th Operations Group activated the 30th Reconnaissance Squadron at TTR. The 30th RS was charged with "developing advanced
concepts and validating tactics, techniques, and procedures for integrating remotely piloted aircraft systems into the nation’s war fighting
capabilities." This included development and testing the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV that has been dubbed "the Beast of Kandahar" by