•  Carrier


Environmentally Sustainable Support of Warfighter Readiness

As the management of Department of Defense firing ranges and training areas transforms from a culture of consumption to a culture of conservation, utilizing specifically developed 3D steel targets rather than the traditional use of surplus military vehicles as targets can offer a still-realistic solution that also delivers longer-term sustainable and environmental benefits.


By Mark Albe, PMP, M.SAME, CWO5 Bill Brown, EOD, M.SAME, USN (Ret.), and Courtney Ingersoll, PMP, M.SAME



3D Steel TargetsThe Department of Defense (DOD) Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan (SSPP) provides a compliance approach with multiple federal sustainability require­ments while maintaining continued opera­tional training range military readiness.

It is especially important in this envi­ronment of tighter budgets and greater demands for operational training range managers to embrace SSPP guidance and find beneficial, cost-effective, creative, sustainable solutions to simulate expected realistic battlefield conditions. In further support, DOD has added a special resource budget category for operational range sustainment, placing heavy emphasis on fully integrated environmental protection, pollution prevention and sustainability into all current and future planning.

To help achieve overall SSPP objectives, a recent key strategic approach has been the introduction of 3D steel targets at opera­tional training ranges. 3D steel targets are a cost-effective alternative to the traditional use of surplus military vehicles. Moreover, no environmental contamination is left on site during and after use.

These heavy-duty, 3D steel targets, specif­ically developed for 360° live-fire training, accurately replicate enemy and friendly vehicles to provide more realistic warfighter training. There are thousands of 3D steel targets utilized on military installations worldwide enhancing today’s warfighter global training capabilities. These targets ensure compliance with DOD Directives 4715.11 and 4715.12, and reduce lifecycle costs by an estimated 30 percent.



Effective live training, carried out to a high doctrinal standard, is the cornerstone of operational success. The training of critical tasks that indi­viduals, crews, platoons and companies have to accomplish for combat readiness is directly correlated to the availability and capability of live-fire ranges, maneuver areas, and realistic 3D targets. Hearing and reacting to the sound of a shot hitting a steel target helps program muscle memory, and reinforces positive behavior. Similar to athletic training, the body subconsciously remembers how to repeat or orchestrate all the different variables required for a successful movement, or in this case, a shot. The instantaneous feedback steel targets offer enhances training, speed and accuracy. This is especially important for tactical shooting scenarios with motion.

Historically, the targets and training devices used to develop realistic train­ing scenarios and simulate anticipated battlefield threats have included placing U.S. military surplus vehicle hulks down­range. However, the use of 3D steel targets enhances the training objective, as they are designed to simulate typical military vehicles the warfighter will encounter on the battlefield. 3D steel targets are fully compliant with current military doctrine and are designed to provide the best possible silhouette. The eye-square view (silhouette) is a major factor in target recognition and acquisition. Silhouettes not providing the proper details from a distance may have ambiguous interpretations. By maintaining the integrity of the true silhouette of a target, the success rate of recognition and thereby target acquisition is drastically improved. The speed and accuracy of visual recogni­tion and engagement decision-making also is improved. This allows for images to be more readily classified as high-confidence friend or foe, thereby further enhancing training scenarios.

3D steel targets are full size and constructed from heavy steel plates. Each target is designed to replicate an enemy vehicle, in contrast to a 2D steel target, where the only usable profile is from front or rear of the target. The most obvious benefit of a 3D steel target is that personnel undergoing training can detect, prioritize and engage these targets from various angles, both from the ground and air. This is especially important on fire-and-maneuver courses. For example, on a live-fire convoy course the trainee may have multiple options for angles of approach. By the time a trainee can observe a 2D target, the opportunity for safe engagement may have passed. A 3D target is most often capable of being acquired from a 360° angle, from both the ground and air, depending on the specific range regulations.

Predictability of ricochets is another desirable trait. Most 3D steel targets are designed with other than 90° impact angles, reducing the likelihood of splash back injuries caused by ricochets occurring directly at the shooter. Known as the “splash angle,” installations usually can specify the desired angle and can increase the level of predictability of ricochets over that of the vehicle hulk.

 Military training ranges 


Although the historic use of military vehicle hulks may not have a purchase cost, as they are usually available from the Defense Reutilization Management Office, the pre-range preparations are by no means free. Each hulk needs petroleum, oils and lubricants drained. All dials need to be removed to ensure no tritium or other radioactive substance remains and can find its way onto the range and potentially into the groundwater.

Tires and other flammable items on the vehicle need to be removed to prevent risk of a wild fire often caused by tracer rounds.

At the end of the target’s useful life, the removal process can be laborious and expensive. Each vehicle hulk must be care­fully cut open and inspected for any unex­ploded ordinance (UXO) that may have penetrated the exterior and become lodged in an interior space. If UXO is found, it must be safely removed prior to retiring. Whether UXO is found or not, the removal process requires the expertise and often specialized equipment of a UXO profes­sional. The emplacement and removal of vehicle hulks on any range comes at a cost of multiple resources, most notably time, equipment and personnel.

The use of 3D steel target can lower lifecycle costs when considering the costs associated with vehicle hulk pre-use prepa­rations, post-use removal, and minimal recycle value. 3D steel targets require no pre-use preparation. They are easily emplaced. And when a 3D steel target is no longer serviceable—typically after three to seven years, depending on range type and engagement—it is 100 percent recyclable. Utilization of these targets is environmentally friendly and minimizes the adverse effect on environmental media and potential receptors.



The management of DOD firing ranges and training areas is transforming from a culture of consumption to a culture of conservation. The continued improvement of expected battlefield conditions simula­tion at live-fire ranges and facilities, while ensuring overall environmental sustain­ability and cost, is paramount to meeting the objectives of SSPP.

Expanding the use of realistic 3D steel targets rather than repurposing military vehicle hulks helps today’s operational range training managers strike the balance of meeting the needs of both the warfighter and the environment—of achieving the goals of today, and tomorrow.



Mark Albe, PMP, M.SAME, is Director of Munitions & Environment, CWO5 Bill Brown, EOD, M.SAME, USN (Ret.), is Range Sustainment Program Manager, and Courtney Ingersoll, PMP, M.SAME, is Principal, Military Munitions Response Program, Sterling Global Operations Inc. They can be reached at 256-864-0550, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 865-988-6063, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; and 865-466-0262, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., respectively.