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 The Navy's Desert Ship

In the desert of White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico is a Navy “vessel” that never leaves port but is continually at work: the Desert Ship. The NSWC PHD White Sands Detachment, including the Desert Ship performs live-fire test and evaluation of Navy weapons encompassing missiles, guided munitions, and high-energy laser technologies. The Detachment mission also includes Research Rockets as well as derivative rocket systems providing for the test and evaluation of ballistic missile defense at sea.

As part of the Tri-Service National Range Test Facility, the Desert Ship makes it possible to test a variety of network-centric and battle-space management scenarios. The White Sands Missile Range is fully instrumented to provide high-quality radar, optical, telemetry, meteorology, and scenario control over the entire extent of the range. The Navy has been part of the test community at White Sands since 1946.

STANDARD Missile is representative of the many Navy programs performing test and evaluation at White Sands Missile Range for which the Desert Ship functionally duplicates fire control capabilities of a surface combatant. The Desert Ship is continually being upgraded to meet live-fire testing requirements of today and tomorrow and is migrating to an increasing role in cooperative, integrated synthetic and live-fire testing.

Why a Ship in the Desert

The NSWC PHD Desert Ship, located in the middle of the desert at White Sands Missile Range, has proven beneficial to the Navy for a number of reasons.

  • Land-based testing and facilities provide a level of rigor, control and flexibility in the testing of Navy weapons that is not achievable at sea on surface combatants
  • The precision instrumentation at White Sands Missile Range provides state of the art data collection, reduction and analysis.
  • The ability to economically recover flight hardware for forensics and material performance and reliability assessment is generally unachievable at sea
  • The White Sands Missile Range location provides the Detachment with the largest overland DoD controlled land and airspace within the Continental United States (100 miles long and 40 miles wide) for testing of Navy long-range weapons.
  • The Detachment Weapons Testing involves the Sailor in a wide variety of processes from assembly through system integration testing to actual live-fire testing against aerial and land-based targets.
  • Tri-Service resources and local tenant organizations provide a wide variety of options and opportunities for joint and stand-alone testing/training.