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Navy sets up new facility for Tunnel-Warfare training.

Tunnels, caves and bunkers buried deep beneath the desert surface have emerged as significant challenges for U.S. air and ground forces fighting in Afghanistan and preparing for a possible attack against Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

To find better ways to locate and destroy such facilities, the Naval Air Systems Command--NavAir for short--has established a Tunnel Warfare Center at its Weapons Division in China Lake, Calif.

The center was set up in October of 2001, as the United States began attacking terrorist forces in Afghanistan, said Cmdr. (Sel.) Bill Manofsky, the military deputy for the Weapons and Targets Department at China Lake.

Manofsky, a Navy reservist who volunteered for active duty after 9/11, proposed the establishment of the facility after noting the importance of the enemy's underground defenses in Afghanistan.

U.S. units frequently found al Qaeda and Taliban forces holed up in large, honeycombed complexes of natural caves and man-made tunnels, often cleverly disguised, booby-trapped and supplied with food, water and ammunition.

"It's the first time that we've encountered tunnel warfare since the Vietnam War," Manofsky said.

China Lake--located on 1.1 million acres of land in the Mojave Desert about 150 miles north of Los Angeles--is the perfect place to train for those conditions, Manofsky said.

Larger than the state of Rhode Island, China Lake provides an extensive array of isolated land and air ranges, test facilities and laboratories to test and evaluate all kinds of military weapons and equipment.

The terrain includes miles and miles of open desert and pine-covered mountains. "China Lake is just like Afghanistan," Manofsky said. "It's on the same latitude as Kabul. It has a very similar landscape, including the bushes, trees and rocks."

Scattered throughout the facility, geologists have identified more than 300 abandoned mines, Manofsky said. "Some of them date back to California's gold-rush era in the 1850s."

A Forgotten Threat

"Prior to 9/11, nobody really cared about tunnel warfare," Manofsky said. "Most people had forgotten about Mount Suribachi and the tunnels of Vietnam."

On Mount Suribachi--during the World War II battle for the Pacific Island of Iwo Jima--Marines had to use flame throwers, hand grenades and M-1 rifles to destroy Japanese troops fiercely defending heavily fortified bunkers, tunnels and caves, Manofsky explained.

In Vietnam, U.S. troops often had to crawl into Viet Cong tunnels, which were cramped for space and pitch black inside, sometimes armed only with .45 caliber pistols and flashlights, he said.

Using the abandoned mines at China Lake, U.S. units can learn how to operate in such environments, Manofsky said.

"Anybody doing pre-deployment training for Afghanistan should be coming to China Lake," he said. "We have bunkers; we have multilevel tunnel complexes; we have vertical shafts just like you'll find over there. Some of them look exactly like Afghan aqueducts."

Three of the tunnel locations are fully instrumented with weather stations and environmental sensing equipment inside and outside. "Once a month, our reservists go out and do a data sweep," Manofsky said. The tunnels are so spread out that the job takes a full day. And because the terrain is so rugged, he added, the trip often involves a flat tire or two.

Interest in the facility is picking up, Manofsky said. He is getting inquiries daily for a wide variety of projects, he said.

"I'm focusing on three customer groups--the intelligence community, and the ground and air forces of the U.S. military services and our allies," Manofsky said.

Currently, the center is conducting a classified project with the National Imagery and Mapping Agency--a "spy-in-the-sky" intelligence-gathering organization--and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency--which seeks to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The center also is involved in redeployment training for F/A-18 pilots and "anyone who calls in close-air support," Manofsky said.

The center seeks to develop three kinds of products, including "weapons, tactics and training, in that order," Manofsky said.

For example, he noted, current naval air targeting systems have some accuracy limitations. They were developed mainly to find conventional targets, such as buildings, tanks and trucks.

At China Lake, aircrews are using the new Laser-Guided Training Rounds--which simulate laser-guided bombs--to practice firing on targets that resemble the caves and tunnels of Afghanistan.

Some of the weapons and tactics being developed at China Lake may be useful against underground facilities in Iraq, if the United States decides to invade there, Manofsky said, Right now, however, his primary focus is on the tunnels of Afghanistan, and he thinks that U.S. forces will be there for quite a while. "Are we going to be out of there by Christmas? I don't think so."
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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