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A proving ground is a facility which is designated for the testing of equipment, weapons, and theories. As a general rule, the term is used in reference to a military proving ground, although proving grounds are also used by car manufacturers, robotics programs, and in a wide range of other industries as well. Access to proving grounds is usually tightly controlled for security and safety reasons, and visitors may be asked to sign confidentiality agreements to ensure that information about the testing taking place on the proving ground is not passed on.
Proving grounds are usually located in very remote areas to address safety and security concerns, and they are typically quite large, so that people can test aircraft, heavy equipment, and complex military tactics. Often, land which is not usable for one reason or another is chosen for a proving ground, and the site is typically heavily fenced and guarded to prevent unauthorized access.
Some well-known proving grounds include Hammelburg in Germany, which includes a model village for testing urban warfare tactics, along with CFB Suffield in Canada, Salisbury Plain in England, and Aberdeen Proving Ground in the United States. These sites have hosted the first appearances of a wide range of advanced military technology and tactics, ranging from experimental aircraft to new types of weapons.
Essentially, a proving ground is a giant sandbox. The secured environment allows people to experiment with things which they could not use in other locations due to safety concerns, and people can also experiment with radical equipment or ideas in a supportive environment. Support staff at a proving ground are familiar with a wide range of fields like engineering, pyrotechnics, military theory, ballistics, and so forth, and commonly medical staffers are kept on hand in case of injury.
On occasion, people outside the military may be taken to a proving ground for a demonstration of experimental or confidential technology. Some militaries also use proving grounds to unveil new equipment to the general public through demonstrations held for the media; for example, there are several videos in circulation demonstrating the effects of experimental pain rays on journalists who volunteered for the experience.
Not everything pans out on the proving ground once it has been tested, which explains the “proving” in the title. The term is also sometimes used to refer to a metaphorical political proving ground when discussing the success or failure of politicians on the campaign trail.