27th SOW breaks ground on new MAFR control tower

From left to right, Col. Ben Maitre, 27th Special Operations Wing Commander, Lt. Col. Shawn Young, 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Tony Diaz, 27th Special Operations Contracting Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Joel Sloan, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron commander, break ground on the site where a new Range Control Officer Tower is scheduled to be built April 22, 2016 at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M. The RCO Tower is the point from which a designated officer controls activity on MAFR, a 70,000-acre Air Force primary training range that is integral to making sure Special Operations Forces attached to United States Special Operations Command stay lethal and relevant to today’s fight (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

From left to right, Col. Ben Maitre, 27th Special Operations Wing Commander, Lt. Col. Shawn Young, 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Tony Diaz, 27th Special Operations Contracting Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Joel Sloan, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron commander, break ground on the site where a new Range Control Officer Tower is scheduled to be built April 22, 2016 at Melrose Air Force Range, N.M. The RCO Tower is the point from which a designated officer controls activity on MAFR, a 70,000-acre Air Force primary training range that is integral to making sure Special Operations Forces attached to United States Special Operations Command stay lethal and relevant to today’s fight (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz)

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Leadership from the 27th Special Operations Wing broke ground on a new Melrose Air Force Range Control Officer Tower following a ceremony at the range, April 22.

The RCO Tower is the point from which a designated officer controls activity on MAFR, a 70,000-acre Air Force primary training range that is integral to making sure Special Operations Forces attached to United States Special Operations Command stay lethal and relevant to today’s fight.

“The tower is where the RCO controls all activity on the range,” said Steven Coffin, Chief, Range Management Office. “Everything from clearance for aircraft to enter and exit, ground movement, ground live fire events, all administrative traffic, and emergencies.”

According to Coffin, the current tower is decades old and was constructed as a purpose-build tower for spotting munitions impacts and strafing runs under Air Combat Command. Not surprisingly, the associated communications package is also decades old and not well suited for the modern communications environment.

Issues of safety and functionality have also made the building of a new RCO Tower a necessary project for leadership at the 27th SOW.

“The current tower cab is very limited in floor space and it is difficult to locate the required number of personnel there during large exercises,” Coffin said. “Access to the old tower is through an external staircase which can be hazardous during extreme wind events and freezing weather. Currently, the RCOs have to vacate the tower at winds above 35 knots.”

“The tower has no latrine facilities,” Coffin continued. “Most importantly, it is located in the middle of what is termed by range planners as the hazard area; that area which contains all the danger zones for munitions and lasers. While the tower is currently de-conflicted from all munitions deliveries and laser events, the delivery profiles for those munitions are severely limited due to the tower's location.”

The new RCO Tower, which has an estimated completion date of February 2017, will address all these issues and provide RCOs with a facility commensurate to the high-octane training conducted at MAFR.

“The new tower is four stories high and will be located on the MAFR mesa with a 360-degree tower cab view,” Coffin said. “It will have a protected internal stairway as well as a latrine and lunch break area and fire protection. The tower cab will provide work stations for up to six personnel, a state-of-the-art United States Air Force communications package, and integrated video feeds for weather, Bird Aircraft Strike Hazard and range-wide security cameras. Range personnel will be able to monitor and/or direct large exercises from a central location with excellent visibility.”

Col. Ben Maitre, 27th SOW commander, Lt. Col. Tony Diaz, 27th Special Operations Contracting Squadron commander, Lt. Col. Shawn Young, 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron commander, and Lt. Col. Joel Sloan, 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron commander, broke first earth on the build site.

“This project is important for two reasons,” Maitre said. “First, it is a crucial first step in relocating administrative facilities from the center of the range, enabling us to optimize our kinetic training there and bring Air Force Special Operations Command’s Comprehensive Range Plan to fruition. Second, it will provide better facilities and equipment to the people who are out here enabling that training day in and day out as part of this premier SOF air and ground range. We’re excited to get this project underway, and reap the benefits after its completion.”