Winter notes China Lake connection to UAV milestone

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Winter notes China Lake connection to UAV milestone“It’s a great month to be an American, to be in the Navy, and to be working in unmanned systems. We are truly making history right now. And you don’t get to say that every day.”

At a May 24 luncheon hosted by the China Lake Alliance, Rear Adm. Mat Winter reported on the Navy’s first-ever launch of an unmanned aircraft from a traditional aircraft carrier earlier this month, and reflected on how his current responsibilities as the NAVAIR program executive officer for unmanned systems and strike weapons converge with the work accomplished at his former command at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

On May 14, Winter stood on the deck of USS George H. W. Bush and watched young sailors load the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator into the catapult.

“When I was asked what I thought about it, I thought it was totally mundane and normal,” he said. “What I mean by that is I watched the vehicle taxi, watched 18- to 20-year-old men and women load it up, watched the lights come on, saw the men and women salute and saw the craft launch off the end of the runway, rotate and disappear into the blue sky.

“It was exactly like a manned catapult, but it was unmanned. And no one had ever done it before. We had people controlling it to make sure it did what it was supposed to do, but those people were 300 miles away,” said Winter.

“And this wasn’t technology imported from Japan or China or Bangladesh, it was made right in the industrial base of the Untied States of America.

“We sit back sometimes and flog ourselves and say we’re behind. But I’m here to tell you — from where I operate, from what I see, we’re well ahead. But there’s no time to rest on our laurels because we need to look at how we stay there.”

Staying there means having a strong economy, having a strong military and keeping the U.S. a leader on the national stage. “What we did on the East Coast May 14 reverberated around the world, put smiles on our allies’ faces and perplexity on our adversaries’ faces. That’s a good thing.”

As the Navy evaluates the full implications of how this leap in development will shape the future of naval aviation, Winter said these successes need to be heralded. “Because the memory of the Pentagon is measured in microseconds.”

Winter said that commanding China Lake (as well as WD sister centers at Point Mugu and San Nicolas Island) was his favorite command as a flag officer. “That doesn’t mean PEO is not great, but that first flag position really got inside of me,” said Winter.

“So what am I doing now, and why do you care? Well, there is an intersection between what you do here and what I do in Pax River. I need your help and you need mine. We are in this together.”

He said that the 10 captains and GS-15s who report to him for strike weapon and unmanned systems conduct RDT&E on a wide and varied portfolio.

“Putting warheads on foreheads and making sure the warfighters have what they need to be successful is the job of the Weapons Division,” said Winter. “The men and women here at China Lake, and those supporting them in the community, are providing that capability to my program.”

He said that his choice to bring work to China Lake has nothing to do with the personal connections he made while stationed here, but everything to do with knowing that the Weapons Division has the infrastructure, the intellectual capital, the military and civilian leadership and the technical conscience “to make sure the weapons we put in the hands of the warfighter are effective the first time they use them.”

The strides being made in unmanned systems today are the kind that will be read about in history books 50-80 years from now by his great-grandchildren.

“These are not trivial events,” he said. And the groundbreaking work is not contained in the aircraft itself, but in the complex sensors and analytical abilities that have been knit together to change the future of warfare.

Those significant, if invisible, capabilities are the kind that are forged at China Lake.

“You make a difference. You are relevant. Without you, our country would not have the foundational elements we do today. That is not being melodramatic.”

Winter’s comments about focusing on those technologies go hand in hand with the payloads-over-platforms message brought to China Lake by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert during his visit earlier this year.

“The platform is important, because it carries something into the fight,” said Winter. But having payloads that can be reconfigurable for a multitude of capabilities on a multitude of platforms is the focus. “And that doesn’t happen on a flight deck, but because of the men and women here at China Lake.

“China Lake knows how to do what has never been done before.”

Story First Published: 2013-05-29