The Barry M. Goldwater complex in southwestern Arizona is the Air Force’s premier training range. Established in 1941 to train military pilots in air-to-air and air-to-ground operations and tactics, BMGR remains vital and active.
More than 60,000 sorties are flown annually to develop and maintain combat readiness for U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and allied nation pilots. The BMGR is ideally situated within the unrefueled flight radius of 12 military installations and U.S. Pacific Fleet carriers.
Among all Defense Department installations and ranges, the BMGR is the third largest with 1.7 million acres. The range’s vast size facilitates simultaneous training activities at nine air-to-ground and two air-to-air ranges. Combining 2.8 million acres of restricted entry airspace and adjacent 2.7 million acres of the Sells Military Operations Area, the range complex totals nearly 98,000 cubic miles of unencumbered space where aviators practice realistic offensive and defensive combat maneuvers and engage simulated battlefield targets on the ground.
The BMGR is managed jointly by Luke Air Force Base for the eastern complex and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma for the western portion. At BMGR East, military users drop full-scale live ordnance on five pin-point targets, and employ inert training munitions at 60 other target arrays. Historically, 98 percent of all weapons dropped are inert practice bombs. Most of the land is used as a safety buffer for low-flying fighter aircraft and weapons safety zones.
Humans have inhabited the land now within BMGR for nearly 10,000 years. More than 70 years of dedication to military training has insulated the land from development that is incompatible with the military mission. Only about 10 percent of the land is impacted by training, targets, munitions clearance, roads and other support areas. The remaining 90 percent is relatively undisturbed Sonoran Desert. The buffer areas provide refuge-like conditions for plants and animals including endangered species such as Sonoran pronghorn, lesser long-nosed bat, and flat-tailed horned lizard.
The BMGR complex, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Sonoran Desert National Monument, and Mexico’s Pinacate Biosphere Reserve comprise one of the largest protected landscapes in North America. Natural and cultural resource protection helps sustain BMGR East’s military readiness capacity. Air Force biologists, archaeologists, and environmental planners trained in the ecology and culture of southwestern Arizona develop and implement comprehensive resource management programs that achieve a balance between the military mission and resource protection. For example, before munitions are dropped, trained biologists determine if pronghorn are present within 1 or 1.5 kilometers (for training or high explosive weapons, respectively) of intended targets. If pronghorn are present, pilots engage alternate targets.
Although Air Force directives restrict public access to target and buffer areas, specific portions of the BMGR complex may be visited after obtaining a visitor permit. Visitors to the BMGR must comply with regulations such that they maintain their personal safety, do not conflict with military training and protect fragile resources.