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At Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, California, engineers and rocket scientists, test pilots and software technicians, and generations of high-tech employees are building the weapons of the future. (Photo illustration courtesy NAWCWD China Lake)

At NAWS China Lake, Scientists and Sailors Are Building the Future Fleet

By Adm. Robert Burke, Vice Chief of Naval Operations

On a recent swing to the West Coast, I visited Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, home of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), for the first time.

This remote location has been a premiere spot for technology and an institution in naval weapons. Several physical features distinguish NAWS China Lake from any other Dept. of Defense property, to include the air field, surrounding mountains, access to ranges and open ocean, as well as the laboratory and testing space. The extensive ranges cover upwards of 1 million acres. The area is sprinkled with state-of-the-art industrial facilities.

Amid classified briefings and highly detailed exhibits of advanced weapons technology, what struck me the most was the people – passionate about the mission and incredibly forward-thinking. Each and every professional I met displayed pride and purpose. With more government civilians than Navy Sailors, NAWCWD China Lake is the bedrock of innovation and integration and a shining example of where government not only gets it right, but does it better.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Robert Burke visited NAWS China Lake in December 2018.

Here, engineers and rocket scientists, test pilots and software technicians, and generations of high-tech employees are building the weapons of the future. In areas such as hypersonics, long-range precision munitions, and ground strike capabilities, the Sailors and civilians assigned to the NAWCWD China Lake team are experimenting and building things from scratch, charting the course for defense industry giants to move to production in many cases.

As a Navy, we need significant research laboratories and a place for civilian scientists, engineers, and innovators to create prototypes, test emerging technologies, and contribute to R&D initiatives that give us a competitive edge. This in-house, long-term continuity provides an invaluable mechanism to incubate our intellectual capital while insulated from the unpredictability of the current fiscal environment.

Staying ahead of our competitors and building the future fleet is happening at NAWCWD China Lake. The work at China Lake supports the full-spectrum warfighter and an integrated fleet, and I was thoroughly impressed by the time I spent there. If you have the chance, get out there and learn what they’re up to; I’m positive you’ll be impressed too!

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