By U.S. Army Operational Testing Command Public Affairs
WEST FORT HOOD (Now designated Fort Cavazos), Texas — A small group of military and civilian employees met in a III Corps Headquarters storage room on Oct. 1, 1969, launching a unique equipment test organization that has now spanned 50 years.
Those humble beginnings of the Army’s only independent operational tester — the U.S. Army Operational Test Command — today uses Soldiers to determine whether new and modernized combat equipment systems are effective, suitable, and survivable.
OTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer — the American Soldier.
Testing of military equipment goes back even further.
Between 1856 and 1857, Maj. Henry C. Wayne became the first test officer to conduct the first Army operational test and experiment — the Army Camel Corps.
Wayne reported directly to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, all of his plans, tests and experiments, using average American Cavalrymen in the same harsh environments the camels were expected to operate.
He built into his plans a number of tests that measured real-world endurance and capabilities between the horse, mule, waggoning, and the camel.
Though the first operational tester’s camel program was thorough and rigorous, it soon emerged that the camel could not be effective as the horse, so Wayne ended the camel tests.
On Feb. 7, 1910, the first experimental use of an aircraft bought from the Wright brothers was documented.
Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois, eight enlisted men, one civilian mechanic took their one airplane onto a field on the north side of Fort Sam Houston, Texas, making his first solo flight, which also became the first military flight in Texas.
Foulois and his team of testers are credited with taking the first aerial photography experiments — a map from the air of the area between Fort Sam and Texas City, Texas.
Still today, OTC uses Soldiers to test current and possible future Army equipment and systems under realistic conditions in which they are expected to fight in is a great advantage in the way operational testing is performed.
Soldiers have always been in the operational testing loop with OTC placing equipment in the hands of the troops who give their feedback to the Army on what works and what does not.
This basic philosophy behind operational testing has been the formula over OTC’s 50-year history.
Our great nation’s Soldiers deserve only the very best equipment that is survivable and sustainable on the modern battlefield, and operational testing makes sure the Army puts the best equipment in the hands of its Soldiers that is effective, suitable and reliable.
OTC has had many name changes over the years.
From 1969 to 1976, it was called Project MASSTER in its original form. The U.S. Army Project Mobiles Army Sensor Systems Test, Evaluation and Review was to be only temporary and last as long as the conflict in Vietnam.
From 1976 to 1989, OTC changed its name to TCATA — the TRADOC Combined Arms Test Activity. Maj. Gen. Stewart C. Meyer, TCATA’s commander, told his military and civilian employees that “TCATA had a destiny to be fulfilled.”
“TCATA is destined to become far more than one of the Army’s field test agencies, and their work will help shape the Army’s training, weaponry production, and the tactics and instrumentation used on the modern battlefield,” he said.
Its third name change came during 1989 to 1999 to TEXCOM, or TRADOC Test and Experimentation Command.
Effective Oct. 1, 1999, a major Army reorganization took place when technical and developmental testing combined with operational testing and evaluation under one command. The U.S. Army Operational Test and Evaluation Command in Alexandria, Virginia, and the Army Material Command’s Test and Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland both merged to form the new U.S. Army test and Evaluation Command, today’s OTC higher headquarters.
It was this same day TEXCOM changed its name to U.S. Army Operational Test Command, with eight test directorates located at West Ford Hood, Texas, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
On its 25th Anniversary in October 1994, the Operational Testers’ Hall of Fame was officially opened. The two previously-mentioned pioneer testers — Maj. Henry C. Wayne and Lt. Benjamin D. Foulois, plus six charter members — Lt. Gen. John Norton, Reedie A. Stone, Jr., William “Don” Melton, Col. Edward B. “Jack” Derr, Col. Robert A. Bonifacio, and Mr. Dionisios Sabalos — were inducted. Each was committed to putting the best possible battlefield equipment into the hands of Soldiers.
It is fitting to take the opportunity Oct. 1, 2019 to not only celebrate 50 Years of Operational Testing, but to remember all Operational Testers who have served before and continue to test equipment for our great Soldiers for the next 50 years.