Ft. Benning moves ahead with new off-road training area

By Ethan Sterenfeld / February 18, 2021 at 12:32 PM

The Army will build a new heavy off-road mounted maneuver training area of at least 2,400 acres at Ft. Benning, GA, for the Maneuver Center of Excellence, according to a recently released environmental impact statement.

"The [Heavy Off-Road Mounted Maneuver Training Area] must contain at least 2,400 contiguous acres to satisfy minimum cross-domain movement and maneuver requirements, such as multiple avenues of approach (i.e., open, off-road areas in which armor vehicles can maneuver towards an adversary) that are each at least three kilometers long and several hundred meters wide," according to the environmental impact statement.

Up to 24 armored vehicles at a time could train in an area of that size, so that two groups of 12 vehicles each could perform force-on-force exercises, according to the statement. A notice that the statement had been released was published Feb. 18 in the Federal Register, although the statement is dated October 2020.

A draft version of the environmental impact statement was released last May. The Army's proposed training areas are largely similar to what was released in the draft, although the number of water crossings in the preferred area has fallen from 34 to 27.

The training area would replace an existing facility at the base, built in fiscal year 2006, according to the statement. Training needs have increased since then.

That current facility has 1,952 acres available for heavy off-road maneuver, but in non-contiguous portions, according to the statement. The largest contiguous section has 371 acres, which is small enough that an M1 Abrams tank can target the entire area without moving.

"This fails to achieve the purpose of maneuver training because if the contiguous training areas are smaller than the range of the weapon system, soldiers cannot employ maneuver tactics to evade simulated enemy attacks," according to the statement.

Training strategy has also changed since the current training area was built, according to the statement. The new strategy, "cross-domain movement and maneuver," requires more space for armored vehicles.

"Specifically, the steady increase of lethality, range, and rate of fire of modern weapons enables enemies to inflict mass destruction on closely clustered targets, requiring Army forces to operate in a dispersed manner and adjust tactics accordingly," according to the statement.

The Maneuver Center of Excellence currently has 79 classes with more than 8,000 students per year that require off-road maneuver training at Ft. Benning, according to the statement. The Army has identified three possible sites at the base for the training area.