As China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station faces more than $5 billion in repairs after last month’s massive eastern Kern County earthquakes, it also remains focused on its responsibility to provide America with the weapons it needs to defend itself into the future.
The U.S Navy’s premiere weapons development facility, China Lake announced it has completed its acquisition of 50 square miles of land to expand its south range, where today’s and tomorrow’s increasingly sophisticated weapons will be tested.
The one-of-a-kind military research and development center celebrated its 75th anniversary last fall. Ironically, when China Lake was established to help develop rockets and other weapons for American troops during World War II, many considered it to be a “temporary” facility. But as the years passed, both China Lake and its neighbor, Edwards Air Force Base, to the south, have emerged as critical components of America’s readiness and global leadership.
Both Kern County bases are considered “national treasures.” As with all treasures, they need to be valued and protected.
Sprawled over 1.3 million acres, China Lake is larger than the state of Rhode Island and represents one-third of the Navy’s landholdings.
Scott O’Neil, the former director of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division on the base, told The Californian before his retirement that virtually every weapon in the Department of Defense’s inventory – regardless of military branch – was developed and/or tested at China Lake and its “sister” testing site at Point Mugu, on the coast.
Developed by scientists and engineers at China Lake were such weapons as the Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile; the Shrike anti-radiation missile; and the Walleye television-guided, glide weapon. Many technologies developed at China Lake have found commercial uses, as well. Just a few include the “light sticks” used by campers and Halloween trick-or-treaters; ultra-sound scanners; television instant replay; and the triggering mechanism that activates automobile airbags.
Covering 308,000 acres, Edwards is home to the U.S. Air Force Test Center, the 412th Test Wing and such “tenant activities” as NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate and the Air Force Operational and Test Evaluation Center’s Detachment 5.
Since World War II, Edwards has been at the forefront of the testing of every major weapons system in the Air Force arsenal, and the development of the nation’s breakthrough aviation and space achievements. Numerous Space Shuttles, for example, have touched down on the base’s Rogers Dry Lake landing strip.
A huge swath of restricted military air space in eastern Kern County is controlled jointly by Edwards and China Lake. Known as R-2508 Special Use Airspace Complex, it makes up 12 percent of California’s total airspace.
Both bases also contribute millions of dollars a year to Kern County’s economy from operational spending, sales, salaries and taxes.
And so, it’s no surprise that a “big gulp” could be heard when a 7.1 earthquake and aftershocks rattled China Lake, Ridgecrest and the surrounding area in July and left the base only “partially mission capable.” While the airfield resumed operations within a few days, more than 1,300 buildings at China Lake were damaged and await repair.
But the nation’s commitment to repairing and expanding China Lake is reassuring. It also demonstrates China Lake’s national importance.
Critical to the future of both China Lake and Edwards, however, is the support provided by Kern County and neighboring communities. And that means that such things as preserving the region’s air quality, protecting the airspace from encroachment, and preventing the groundwater from being depleted must be high priorities.
Appearing last fall to mark China Lake’s 75th anniversary, Vice Admiral Mike Moran, a former Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division commander, stressed the need for that support.
Moran said it was clear to him when he was stationed at China Lake that “the relationship between the community and the base is strong. … I firmly believe that the strength of that relationship is, and will continue to be, key to any success the superb workforce here at the Lake will be able to realize for this great country of ours.”