Cannon breaks ground on new Melrose range 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. -- Ground was broken April 22 for a new range control officer tower on the Melrose training area.

The tower allows Airmen to control activity on the 70,000-acre training range where Special Operations Forces stay lethal and relevant to today’s fight.

Steven Coffin, Range Management Office chief, said 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 tower a necessary project for leadership at the 27th Special Operations Wing.

“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.

“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.”

The new tower, which has an estimated completion date of February 2017, will address all these issues and provide RCOs with a facility commensurate to the training conducted there. From this new perch, controllers will manage everything from clearance for aircraft to enter and exit, ground movement, ground live fire events, all administrative traffic, and emergencies.

“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.”