REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama—Calibration is important for both military weapons systems and the devices used to test and measure their accuracy, because the consequences of an uncalibrated weapon or device can be catastrophic.
The U.S. Army Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Activity is responsible for ensuring those calibrations are accurate. The organization, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and part of the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, includes a team of more than 500 technicians at 43 Test, Measurement, and Diagnostic Equipment Support Centers worldwide.
“Our job at USATA as a whole is to make sure that any measurement device being used out there is traceable back to the National Institute of Standards and Technology,” said Bill Wilson, acting team chief of the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, TSC. “Basically, we’re here to make sure your test equipment isn’t lying to you. If your test equipment says it’s a volt, it’s actually a volt.”
Wilson described TMDE as combat service support.
“You’ve got three types of jobs in the Army – you’ve got combat, that’s the Soldiers. Then you’ve got combat support – the mechanics supporting the Soldiers. We are combat service support – we support the mechanics who support the Soldiers.”
TMDE Support Centers do not just calibrate equipment used on traditional military weapons systems, such as tanks and aircraft. They work with every dimension in measurement – from torque wrenches and pressure gauges – to night vision detectors and sound acoustics.
“We touch every aspect of the Army,” Wilson said. “Nothing can shoot, move or communicate unless the equipment used to do that is calibrated by a TMDE Support Center.”
However, as important as the TMDE mission is to the Army, Wilson understands that they mostly go unseen, saying, “If we do our job well, there is no need to worry about it.” He also acknowledged that when situations do not go well, TMDE is one of the first stops during an investigation.
“Anytime a chopper crashes, it’s just a matter of time before [investigators] come to the calibration lab asking for records showing the last time the equipment used on that chopper was calibrated,” he said. “We’ll provide that information so the investigation into why it crashed can continue.”
Maj. Gen. Todd Royar, the AMCOM commanding general, is all too familiar with the importance of calibration, which is why he visited the Fort Campbell TSC Feb. 5.
“He told us he was the commander of the 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, at Fort Campbell when a chopper crashed. They traced the crash back to a mechanic using an uncalibrated torque wrench on a fuel line. That’s why Maj. Gen. Royar is so invested in calibration – it’s a personal experience with him.”
During his trip to the TMDE Support Center, Royar visited with the team, asked about the challenges they face and told them he is working to make TMDE better.
“I absolutely view calibration as a non-negotiable safety issue,” Royar said. “Having seen firsthand the potential effects of items not calibrated appropriately, I am even more impressed with the dedication and technical abilities of those in USATA, as well as those Soldiers who perform calibration in our tactical units.”
Wilson said he was encouraged by Maj. Gen. Royar’s intent to spread the message about the importance of calibration to commanders in the field, because it is an investment in safety.
“There is no shooting, moving or communicating in the Army without us accomplishing our job correctly first,” he said. “We help prevent needless tragedy in the field and keep systems from breaking down, that’s the most important thing. The Soldiers have enough to worry about with bullets firing at them. They don’t need to worry about their equipment failing on them too.”