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In what may be a new breath of life for Dugway Proving Ground - and may help preserve its government housing - the Air Force has decided to expand training at the Army range.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Friday that the Air Force will expand exercises in which pilots use electronics to "fire" on targets without using actual weapons.Hatch aides said such exercises began on the large desert ranges of the Rhode Island-size base this year.

They said the Air Force originally planned to divide such training among 13 ranges but is now consolidating it among six - and Dugway will pick up some of the work from other sites. Hatch said the consolidation is expected to create 75 new jobs at the base.

"This is really an ideal mission. There will be no actual weapons or destructive testing that will threaten the terrain or adversely affect the environment," Hatch said.

"The weapon employments - whether bombs, rockets or cannon fire - will be simulated and scored electronically. The Air Force will fly bomber and tactical fighter aircraft over the range," he said.

Hatch said the new mission might also help preserve government housing at Dugway's English Village. The Army has considered closing it to save money, which would force workers to commute long distances. Gov. Mike Leavitt has been considering ways to salvage the housing.

Hatch said, "Hopefully with this new breath of life for Dugway, these problems will be overcome."

Hatch also said the Air Force told him the changes should make Dugway and LaJunta, Colo., the foremost American tactical training ranges.

The expanded use might also help the adjacent Utah Test and Training Range and its parent Hill Air Force Base survive. That range had been proposed for closure by some, but other users of it contended it is essential.

Hill - the nearest base to the ranges - is also at risk in the 1995 round of base closures. It is one of five major air logistics centers - or supply-and-maintenance depots - and officials would like to close two of them.

However, Hill escaped such lists last year in part because of the test ranges, which the other logistics centers do not have.

Hatch said the new mission may also provide opportunities for Utah's large software industry to become more involved in such training. He noted, for example, that half the business of Evans & Sutherland in Salt Lake City comes from defense simulation training.