Moran: China Lake poised to lead in times of fiscal uncertainty

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Four months into his tour as commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Rear Adm. Mike Moran says China Lake’s recognized technical competence and strong lineage of innovation, coupled with the support from a committed and patriotic community, will help ensure the local Navy asset’s ability to weather whatever fiscal uncertainty lies ahead.

“There is no question our budget is down-turning,” said Moran. “But the talks at our capitol are positive and hopefully we will see a defense appropriations bill that will provide some stability and enable some smart long-term planning.”

A silver lining of financial hardship, he said, is the opportunity during times of declining resources for organizations to look inward and improve operations. In that quest for increased efficiency and stewardship, Weapons Division leaders have also identified some of their unique contributions to national defense.

“I would argue that China Lake is one of the few remaining bastions of full-spectrum services, science and technology for the future through combined production. We have skill sets here that are very hard to find anywhere else. I think we can leverage that to our advantage — get out in front and remind leadership of what is available here.”

He said that with that in mind, WD will be focusing on several objectives moving forward.

“The first is getting back into the business of future-focused technologies — that has been a cornerstone in our history, and ideally will always be a part of our future.” A common tactic of coping with budget crises is to pare down costs to the most essential operations. The result of that is creating a future lag in technological evolution that can expose an organization to vulnerability.

“We have to look at why we are important — why what we do is important,” said Moran.

“In World War II it was well understood why national security was important.” The population felt the threat of attack and civilians supported the armed forces by making whatever sacrifices they could to arm the nation.

Fast-forward 60 years or more, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan barely register on the psyche of the average American. It’s not entirely a bad thing for citizens to be shielded from the most acute sacrifices made in the name of freedom, says Moran, but it is critical not to forget that part of eternal vigilance is looking ahead to how threats will look in the future, and how we can be prepared for them.

“In the last 50 years, we have had the technological edge in every military engagement we’ve sent our troops into,” said Moran. “We may be superior today, but if we allow ourselves to take our eyes off the ball we won’t always be. We want to continue to lead for the next 50 years as well. If we start cutting the investments that give us the advantage, we won’t have that edge in 20 years.”

Moran said that toward that end, WD will be looking at smarter ways to partner with small business. Industry has an important role to play in RDT&E, he said, but the Navy also needs to maintain its place in technological developments.

He pointed also to a national need to speed up how quickly the Navy can arm the fleet in response to near-term requirements. “We are still at war, although we have a tendency to forget that at times.” The Weapons Division sits poised to support that rapid response to the warfighter, he said.

While Moran’s most recent predecessors have had previous experience at China Lake, this is Moran’s first tour here. “When I first found out I was coming here, I heard a lot of people say things about this being located in the middle of nowhere, or about the desert heat, or about the misleading name of China ‘Lake.’

“But what I’ve now determined is that none of those people have actually been here. I enjoy this community more every day I am here. I love the small-town peace, the strength and recognition of the bond between the base and community and the people who have welcomed us with open arms,” said Moran.

“People here in the China Lake-Ridgecrest environment know what we are about. It is clear and unambiguous about not only our relationship, but the importance of the Navy’s mission at China Lake. I am enjoying that immensely, and quite proud and honored to be a part of it.”

Moran says he looks forward to finding ways to make those ties even stronger. He said he is looking for ways that the community can continue to support the workforce, and offer the kind of quality of life that makes it attractive to young engineers who are looking for a place to live and work.

“I think we need to look at ways to foster industry outside the gate,” he said. “We can’t invest money in that, but there are a lot of ways that we can offer partnerships that offer a benefit to the public,” he said.

“We need to get more people to come here and participate in the investment required to keep our nation secure. I think that excitement and energy will draw even more industry and foster relationships that will benefit both the military and commercial industry fronts.

“One of the exciting things I’ve seen is the Innovation Hub at Inyokern Airport, which was established by the governor. I see that as a great opportunity for some of our newer technology houses to bring their innovations to fruition,” said Moran.

“That not only helps our community, but it is critical to our mission. It’s in the best interest not just of China Lake and Ridgecrest, but of Navy and DOD. If we can merge the smart ideas and people that clearly exist, we will most certainly make the kind of difference our country needs to keep our technological edge.”

Story First Published: 2014-01-08