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‘Dust Devils’ of China Lake

Photo: Weapons testing accounts for a large potion of VX-31’s activities, as well as integration of new software loads. NAVAIR

 

VX-31 ‘Dust Devils’ is one of the US Navy’s unsung heroes. It’s a squadron that operates out of sight, but performs one of the most important duties when it comes to Fleet capabilities.

In the new October edition of Combat Aircraft, Gert Kromhout obtains rare access to Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake and finds that VX-31 is the centerpiece of US Naval air power capabilities.

The ‘Dust Devils’ current fly all models of Hornet and Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and a pair of AV-8B Harriers. It’s about 30 aircraft in total, many of which are in and out of modification. A notable absentee is the F-35. With development testing still wrapped up in the Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, there’s no role for VX-31 with the Lightning II right now.

Generally speaking, the type of work we do is software updates and integration testing of new weapons and weapon load-outs,’ explains CDR Elizabeth Somerville, commanding officer of VX-31. ‘[This] work can be to fix bugs in current software or new capabilities. During operational use as well as tests, bugs are discovered which the navy characterize and prioritize. Then it is determined which have to be absolutely fixed by the next software update, such that we can’t go on with them, all the way down to issues that are just annoying and not really preventing the warfighter from doing the mission. Of course, we like to deliver the most lethal and capable weapons systems to the fleet, but sometimes we have minor nuances with interfaces that we don’t address. It would be too expensive and too time-consuming to cover them all.’

Read the full feature in our new October issue, out now.

Posted in Features

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