Naval Air Warfare Station (NAWS) China Lake, one of the US Navy’s most influential and scretive air bases, has been declared ‘not mission-capable until further notice’ following two major earthquakes that struck the area around Ridgecrest, California, late last week. China Lake is situated in the Mojave Desert and it was at the epicenter of an earthquake of magnitude 6.4 that hit on July 4, followed by a larger 7.1-magnitude tremor the following day.
The events opened up fault lines inside the installation and much of it remains off limits, with evacuation of non-essential personnel to Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu. It’s unclear when test work will resume at China Lake.
Tucked away in a remote corner of the Mojave Desert adjacent to Ridgecrest, China Lake has been quietly supporting naval and marine aviation for over 50 years. With its lineage in the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake is home to VX-31 ‘Dust Devils’ and VX-9 ‘Vampires’. VX-31 is all about development test (referred to as ‘DT’), bringing on new weapons and systems and testing them as part of integrated spiral upgrades. Whereas VX-9 is tasked with formally evaluating suitability for the fleet, before new items are signed off and rolled out to the warfighter.
China Lake has two huge test ranges and laboratories working out how to make combat jets more lethal. The R-2505 range is navy-owned, there’s no public land use, and squadrons can test live ordnance on stationary and moving targets. R-2524 ‘Echo’ range is primarily threat emitters and used for intert weapons evaluation and training.