Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, the high desert home of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, is where the Navy and Marine Corps have developed or tested nearly every significant airborne weapon system in the past five decades. China Lake is located 150 miles northeast of Los Angeles on the western edge of California's Mojave Desert. If you are arriving by air, you may fly from Los Angeles International Airport to the Inyokern Airport, about 10 miles from the main gate. There is no public transportation between the airport and China Lake.
The men and women of the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake are assigned the mission of operating and maintaining base facilities and providing base support services, including airfields, for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, assigned tenants and activities and transient units. China Lake supports the primary research and development, test and evaluation work for air warfare and missile weapons systems. Missiles such as Sidewinder, Shrike and Walleye are just a few of the many products at China Lake which have been developed for the fleet.
China Lake carries out the complete weapon-development process--from basic and applied research through prototype hardware fabrication, test and evaluation, documentation, and Fleet and production support. China Lake is home to approximately 4,400 civilian employees and about 1,000 military personnel (including tenant Operation Test and Evaluation Force squadron VX-9) and is supported by over 1,500 contractor employees.
The Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS), China Lake, encompases 1.1 million acres of land in California's upper Mojave Desert, accounting for approximately one-third of the Navy's total land holdings. The land, ranging in altitude from 2,100 to 8,900 feet, varies from flat dry lake beds to rugged piñon pine covered mountains. The majority of the land is undeveloped and provides habitat for more than 340 species of wildlife and 650 plant types. The area was once also home to Native Americans, whose presence here is marked by thousands of archaeological sites, and to early miners and settlers whose cabins and mining structures are still found scattered throughout the Station.
The California Desert Protection Act (the Act) of 1994 reauthorized the Navy's continued use of public withdrawn lands to support China Lake's research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) and training mission. The Act requires the development of a land use management plan for these withdrawn lands, in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, by October 1997. Additionally, in response to military downsizing initiatives and potential influences of evolving technologies on weapons systems RDT&E and training requirements, the Navy recognizes the need to implement a comprehensive management system that integrates operational and environmental planning processes.
The Navy's proposed action is the implementation of a comprehensive land use management plan (LUMP) at NAWS China Lake for managing existing and proposed land uses authorized under the California Desert Protection Act. Proposed land uses include, but are not limited to, ongoing and future military operations, public health and safety practices, and ongoing and future environmental resources management and conservation at NAWS China Lake. The LUMP will be developed in conformance with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA, 1976).
In the midst of World War II, adequate facilities were needed for test and evaluation of rockets being developed for the Navy by the California Institutes of Technology (Cal Tech). At the same time, the Navy needed a new proving ground for all aviation ordnance. CalTech's Dr. Charles C. Lauritsen and then Cdr. Sherman E. Burroughs met and formed a pact to find a site meeting both their needs.
In the summer of 1943, while searching for the needed site, Dr. Lauritsen, in a small plane flown by Cdr. Jack Renard spotted a two-way landing strip near Inyokern. It was in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but empty desert for miles around, but not too far removed from CalTech's Pasadena base.
The Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS) was established on November 8, 1943 and its mission defined in a letter by the Secretary of the Navy, "...a station having for its primary function the research, development and testing of weapons, and having additional function of furnishing primary training in the use of such weapons."
Testing began at China Lake within a month of the Station's formal establishment. The vast sparsely populated desert around China Lake and Inyokern, with near perfect flying weather and practically unlimited visibility, proved and ideal location not only for T&E activities, but also for a complete R&D establishment. The early Navy-CalTech partnership established a pattern of cooperation and interaction between civilian scientists and engineers and experienced military personnel that, in the ensuing five decades, has made China lake one of the preeminent RDT&E institutions in the world.
The Naval Ordnance Test Station had an annex at Pasadena staffed by professors from the California Institute of Technology who had left their classrooms to support the war effort. The group was tasked with improving performance of the Navys airdropped Mark 13 torpedo. The result of their efforts was a highly reliable torpedo that figured prominently in the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, where naval aviators launching Mark 13s accounted for the majority of the 60 Japanese ships sunk.
In the years following WW II, China Lake projects included development of the famed Sidewinder air-to-air missile, the Shrike anti-radiation missile, the Zuni rocket, a series of aircraft rockets, an entire family of free fall weapons, torpedoes and the TV-guided Walleye glide bomb. Additionally, the Polaris missile concepts were developed by NOTS weapons-planning teams, and the first submarine-launched ballistic missile motors were tested at China Lake.
NOTS and its successors were technical direction agents on all the Navys lightweight torpedoesMark 32, Mark 43, Mark 44, Mark 46 and Mark 50. Each torpedo ran deeper and farther and had more sophisticated guidance and control systems to keep step with the increasing speed and sophistication of their potential targetsSoviet submarines. NOTS also developed the Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) to launch a Mark 46 or a depth charge at a distance submarine target.
NOTS played a major role in the Navys ballistic missile program. The Navy portion of the nations strategic deterrence program was a fleet of submarines equipped with long-range ballistic missiles, hidden in millions of cubic miles of ocean. The strategy was excellent, but execution seemed impossiblehow to get a missile to the surface before its ignition engine was fired. NOTS set up a pop-up range at San Clemente Island to determine how to do that. Tests were conducted with redwood logs and steel cylinders filled with concrete to determine the best mechanism to get a missile out of a submarine tube, through the water column and far enough into the air to allow engine ignition. Success came with the first live launch of a Polaris, conducted by the Center April 4, 1960, just a few months before the first Polaris submarine was commissioned. NOTS later performed major testing on the Poseidon and Trident missiles.
In July 1967, NOTS China lake and the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Corona, Calif., became the Naval Weapons Center. The Corona facilities were closed and their functions transferred to China lake in 1971. In July 1979, the mission and functions of the National Parachute Test Range in El Centro were transferred to China Lake.
In January 1992, the Naval Weapons Center China Lake and the Pacific Missile Test Center Point Mugu were disestablished and combined as a single command, the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWPNS). Each of the two major sites of NAWCWPNS is designated a Naval Air Weapons Station and is a NAWCWPNS host, performing the base-keeping functions.
The NAWCWPNS tenants at NAWS China Lake are today involved in programs that range from the Tomahawk Cruise Missile to the new Joint Stand-Off Weapons System (JSWO) and from the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) to the new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
The Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL), at China Lake, conducts survivability testing for all three major services and industry to provide empirical data on the vulnerability of aircraft to actual threats. In addition, a complete machine shop is on site for fast repair and modification of aircraft and test articles. Full-scale aircraft, propulsion system, ballistic impact, hydraulic ram effects on fuel systems, fire detection and extinguishing, fuel ingestion, engines under simulated full-operating conditions, warhead detonations, thermal and structural tests, infrared (IR) signature tests, static and simulated in-flight crew ejections, pool fire, communication link payout studies, aerodynamic studies. Susceptibility and vulnerability reduction are used to improve existing platforms. Testing is performed under rigidly controlled and highly realistic conditions. NAWCWD is the Navy's field activity for weapon system non-nuclear survivability, weapons lethality, and live fire testing.
The Missile Engagement Simulation Arena [MESA] is China Lake's newest and most sophisticated simulation facility. Missile fuzes can be tested in a secure, controlled environment. Full intercept engagement conditions are simulated and tested independent of weather or other environmental conditions. MESA is the most cost effective alternative to expensive and often uncontrollable field tests. Hundreds of runs can be made each day in a controllable and repeatable fashion. MESA and its predecessor, the Encounter Simulation Laboratory (ESL), have been serving the United States Armed Forces and their contractors for over 25 years. MESA is unique. It consists of a test range and secure office and vault spaces. High-bay simulation arena is 150 feet wide, 405 feet long and 90 feet high. Interior surfaces are designed to minimize and control background clutter. Hardware includes: instrumentation radar, three-axis sensor positioner, sensor transporter, mid-range target support, down-range target support, and two controllers which can position calibration spheres in two dimensions. MESA has two overhead target supports (OTS). Each OTS has six control lines, six encoder lines, a main hoist and two dedicated computers. MESA's flexibility in target positioning permits large-scale variations in target and sensor geometry. In most cases, geometry changes can happen in less than one minute.
Copied with permission from globalsecurity.com
History (2005) by Justin M. Ruhge
Test station, air facility and barracks. The need for a large test range for rocket development was determined in late 1942 and early 1943 by the Navy Bureau of Ordnance. The effort to find a suitable location to test new rockets and Navy aircraft bombing performance was led by Captain Sherman Everett Burroughs, a combat pilot who had served as fleet gunnery officer on Admiral William F. Halsey's staff in the Pacific. On a trip to California on March 1943, Captain Burroughs and representatives from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) selected a promising site that included the Inyokern Airport site and the open land at what was called China Lake to the east. Water, electricity, telephone, railroad and highway facilities were nearby. With plans prepared by Captain Burroughs, construction began in early November 1943 on the Naval Ordnance Test Station (NOTS). The mission of the station was to test, develop and evaluate air weapons and to train men in their use. Caltech would lead the technical developments.
Included in the construction were a machine shop for manufacturing experimental and prototype models of aviation ordnance, physical laboratory and heat treating laboratory, chemical and explosives laboratory, electrical laboratory, electronics laboratory and repair shop, precision instrument and bombsight shop, optical laboratory and repair shop, propellant plant, and controlled temperature-pressure laboratory. Costs estimated by the Bureau of Yards and Docks were $23,739,473. These costs escalated later because the personnel grew from the 1,000 expected to 10,000 by 1953 in the community of China Lake and another 5,000 in the nearby town of Ridgecrest. Many additional facilities were added between 1943 and 1948 at a cost of $54,952,221, more than would be built for the next twenty years.
The first rocket test occurred on December 3, 1943. By April 1944 the nucleus of a naval air facility appeared while Carrier Aircraft Service unit 53 serviced all aircraft at the station.
Caltech's Salt Wells Pilot Plant produced rocket propellants needed in the manufacture of the explosive charges used in atomic bombs for the Manhattan Project and its successor, the Atomic Energy Commission. Work also continued on a full spectrum of research, development, and pilot production of guided missiles, underwater ordnance and other systems.
NOTS developed the new 5-inch high velocity rocket (HVAR) and Tiny Tim by the end of World War II.
At the War's end, the Bureau of Ordnance asked Dr. L T. E. Thompson to supervise the selection of civilian personnel to work at Inyokern and then to direct its research, development, and test work, thus revealing that NOTS would be continued in peacetime even though experimental work elsewhere was largely abandoned. From a wartime station serving the rocket programs of Caltech and the rocket training needs of the fleet, NOTS became a permanent center for weapon research and development, its direction would come from the Navy, for the professors at Caltech wanted out. In any event, NOTS came under new management when Captain James Bennett Sykes relieved Captain Burroughs on August 18, 1945. Sykes presided over a program that had to refine the hastily developed wartime rockets and go forward with advanced weapons for undersea warfare, air-to-air rockets, and an entirely new ordnance discipline encompassing guided missiles.
During this period, the air-to-air missile called Sidewinder was developed under the direction of technical Director Dr. William B. McLean, as well as Mighty Mouse and ASROC.
On May 8, 1948 Michelson Laboratory was formally dedicated. It remains the Navy's most complete weapons research establishment.
On June 8, 1963, President John F. Kennedy visited NOTS while on a tour of the west coast installations. Extensive displays and demonstrations of the new ordnance developed by NOTS were presented to the large company of government experts and politicians.
In 1967 NOTS was renamed the Naval Weapons Center (NWC), China Lake.
In 1976 NWC acquired a new $3.6 million laboratory devoted to laser and other optical research and development projects. It was named in honor of Doctor Charles C. Lauritsen, a pioneer in nuclear physics and rocket research.
The Armitage Field Naval Air Station became the center of the aircraft that tested the various missiles developed at NWC. A Marine barracks provided security at the naval base.
In the 1980s to 1990s 3,850 civilians and 880 military have conducted research and development work on air warfare systems and missile weapons systems and also used the national range facility there for parachute test and evaluation. There are about 600 programs in a plant valued at $1 billion with an annual budget of $300 million.