Army seeks to expand National Training Center facilities

By Ethan Sterenfeld / May 24, 2021 at 2:04 PM

The Army plans to upgrade and expand facilities at the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA, to reflect the greater distances that brigade combat teams have to manage due to force structure and strategy changes in recent years, according to a draft environmental impact statement released May 21.

The Army plans to use the final version of the EIS to ask Congress for an extension to a law that gives the service exclusive control over land that makes up about one-seventh of the NTC. That law currently expires in 2026.

Roughly 110,000 acres of public land on the eastern and western sides of the NTC were reserved for the Army and withdrawn from other uses for a 25-year period starting in 2001. The Army plans to ask Congress to extend the withdrawal of the land by another 25 years or indefinitely.

More space is needed for maneuver and sustainment training at the NTC, according to the draft EIS. Brigade size has increased from two to three maneuver battalions since 2013, and new developments have made it likely that brigade sustainment will need to cover longer distances.

"Geopolitical realities have caused senior Army leaders to shift the emphasis of training from counter-insurgency (COIN) operations . . . to [unified land operations] in preparation for conflict with established 'near-peer' or 'high-end adversary' nation-states at the full brigade level," the draft statement said.

The Army would add live-fire training facilities for the rear units in brigades "to replicate the security mission that these units would experience when deployed," according to the draft EIS. Existing facilities at the NTC cannot support concurrent live-fire exercises for an entire brigade.

Additional proposed improvements to the NTC include expanding urban operations sites, expanded aviation refueling points, radar system upgrades, new communications capabilities and new chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training facilities, according to the draft EIS.

"To train properly for combat, a BCT must have the ability -- the space and terrain type -- to maneuver its three battalions," the draft EIS states. "The current utilization of maneuver space at the NTC does not provide the distance for linear and lateral replication of the area for which the BCT would expect to be responsible when deployed."

The NTC at Ft. Irwin will not be relocated, expanded or closed, according to the draft EIS. The Army also does not plan to spread brigade-level training between the NTC and other installations.

The NTC is primarily used for land operations training by armored and Stryker brigade combat teams. The draft EIS said it is "one of the few places in the world" where brigade-sized units can train.

Public comments on the draft EIS are due July 6.