WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- The U.S. Army has chosen White Sands Missile Range to serve as home base for an air defense testing unit following a years-long effort to increase the number of active-duty missions at the largest military installation in the country.
The announcement was confirmed Wednesday by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who has been advocating for the range.
Heinrich described the 3,200-square mile installation as a national treasure due to its terrain, restricted airspace and expertise.
"At a time when Army installations across the country are facing reductions, adding a new mission to White Sands is a big deal," Heinrich said.
The Pentagon's proposed 2017 budget is largely flat. While slowing plans to buy fighter jets, Army helicopters and Marine vehicles, the nearly $650 billion request calls for increasing spending for cybersecurity and cutting-edge technologies.
The Air Defense Artillery Test Detachment will be increasing its troop strength to 143 soldiers beginning in 2018. The soldiers will come from various units across the Army, according to range officials.
The detachment will be supporting Army missile defense programs that work to put the best equipment in the hands of soldiers deployed around the world.
Along with the extra soldiers will come more missile launchers, radar and other equipment.
The bolstering of the testing unit coincides with Army plans to dedicate a patriot battalion and test attachment to modernize and test air and missile defense capabilities at the missile range and nearby Fort Bliss, Texas.
White Sands Commander Brig. Gen. Timothy Coffin says the testing unit has an important mission and the missile range is the best place for the team.
White Sands provides research and development testing for the U.S. Department of Defense — including the Army, Navy and Air Force -- and private companies. It's also the Army's premier testing range for missile firings, laser research and for identifying vulnerabilities and developing countermeasures.