Some will fill out more than 1,000 comment cards as they put the Medium Mine Protected Vehicle Type II through their paces, hunting simulated explosives over miles of the Texas post, home of both OTC and this test's participating unit, 510th Clearance Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade.
Other systems undergoing tests include an attached interrogation arm for safely engaging roadside threats, a detection system for chemical agents and the Robotic Deployment System, which would allow MMPV crews to launch a PackBot or similar small device.
A bit more about what the OTC does and how soldiers sent there help do it:
1. Facts and figures. OTC conducts about 70 tests per year (72 in 2015) on everything from new vehicles to weapon systems to protective gear. The tests themselves generally run a few weeks or less, but soldiers can be asked to familiarize themselves with some of the equipment before tackling the training ground – a process that can take months, depending on the subject matter.
The number of participants must match the needs of the testers, OTC commander Brig. Gen. Kenneth Kamper said: Some vehicles may require a company to navigate them through a simulated war zone, while a test of network nodes designed to improve brigade-level communication will involve the entire brigade.
A soldier inspects the Robot Deployment System as part of maintenance checks during February tests at Operational Test Command in Fort Hood, Texas.
Photo Credit: Clay Beach/Army
2. Unit buy-in. OTC staffers try to connect with unit planners up to a year before the test – not just to prepare them for their visit, but to shape the exercise around the training needs of the soldiers taking part.
"We say, 'Hey, here's what we need and what we can provide, so let's talk about how we can improve your readiness,' " said Col. Ronald McNamara, director of the OTC's maneuver, support and sustainment directorate. "Our Army is very, very busy. … For them to take time out of a training cycle to participate in a test will sometimes appear as a distraction."
While the gear being used will be dictated by the test, the tactics and training elements used by the participants will translate among platforms. And as soldiers with the MMPV testing unit pointed out, the OTC assignment offers a chance for full-time focus on training, away from second- and third-order duties.
3. Realism and readiness. First Sgt. Joseph Taylor said his company has a number of soldiers "who have never 'gone across the pond,' so to speak" – and OTC's training environment has offered an accurate glimpse of what they could find in a combat zone.
Instead of jockeying with other units for training facilities, then hitting the road in modified Humvees, the company has benefited from the OTC's resources, said Taylor, whose unit was in the midst of the MMPV-review process when he spoke with Army Times.
It's another side effect that benefits visiting troops – the type of realism required to put gear like the MMPV through its paces offers unique training opportunities.
"In all these tests, the key words that we hear all the time is that it's a realistic operational environment, with a realistic mission, with a realistic threat," Kamper said. "There's always some kind of opposing force."
The testing command does more than vehicles. Here, a Soldier with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, participates in a March test of the Soldier Protection System.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf/Army
4. Survey says. Along with OPFOR, the other constant at OTC is the feedback process. When they're not filling out paperwork seeking their opinions on new gear, soldiers often field questions from command leaders and contractors, who are after everything from small details to systemwide evaluations.
"We want unvarnished opinions from people who are going to have to use this equipment," McNamara said. "There have been multiple tests where soldiers have said, "This doesn't work as well as I thought it would, or it doesn't work as well as what I used two years ago on deployment.' … Is that really a problem? We may dig into it. We may run another test, or it may just be one person's opinion."
Taylor said his unit had yet to suffer from "survey fatigue" and was embracing the Q-and-A portion of the assignment.
"The majority of us have deployed, and we've sat in a seat and said, 'Who's the crazy guy who thought of this?' " he said.
5. Greater good. Despite the long feedback sessions, unit leaders said their soldiers didn't lose sight of the larger mission.
"The overall intent is to get the best product to the soldier, and that has been very clear and very true throughout the test," said 1st Lt. John Witte, the company's executive officer. "It's nice when the gripes and the problems that you have with the equipment, or the ideas that you have to make a system better, can actually get recorded."
As Taylor put it, "How many times in your career, in your life, have you said, 'I wish I could've changed that?' … My whole company is just very glad right now that they can help."
Trainers from the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, background, instruct combat engineers from the 510th Clearance Company, 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, on operator-level maintenance and set up of the Talon IV interrogation robot.
Photo Credit: Clay Beach/Army
6. (Some) MMPV specs
Like all OTC output, results of the MMPV Type II tests are closely guarded. The Army could begin fielding this variant by August.
Tests include both security and route clearance missions, according to documents provided by OTC, with the vehicle taking on primary and secondary roads in both daytime and nighttime excursions.
Along with traditional soldier surveys, testers can access images from cameras mounted to the vehicles – large ones to survey the scene and smaller, "lipstick" devices for greater detail. They'll also be able to capture screen images from the MMPV's Vehicle Optics Sensor System and its Common Remotely Operated Weapon System, or CROWS, for further study.