‘60 Minutes’ spotlights micro drones

Dr. Will Roper hosts CBS news team for successful test at China Lake

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

‘60 Minutes’ spotlights micro drones   China Lake’s contributions to national defense were showcased on a national stage Sunday evening, when “60 Minutes” aired an in-depth report on the successful test of a game-changing drone technology being worked on by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.

CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin and a 10-man production crew spent six days at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in October gathering footage and interviews about Perdix, a swarm of micro unmanned aerial vehicles that can quickly analyze their surroundings to perform in groups of 100 or more to diffuse threats.

“One of the biggest revolutions over the past 15 years of war has been the rise of the drones — remotely piloted vehicles that do everything from conduct air strikes to dismantle roadside bombs,” Martin reported in the segment.

“Now, a new generation of drones is coming. Only this time they are autonomous — able to operate on their own without humans controlling them from somewhere with a joy stick.”

Although human intervention is still required for a kill, the technology is being lauded for its capability to make decisions faster and go in harm’s way without risking the lives of warfighters.

“Think of it as the coming swarm, and if that sounds like the title of a sci-fi mini-series, well, stayed tuned — as we are about to show you, it’s already a military reality.”

Dr. Will Roper, director of the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office, has been at China Lake since 2014 for testing and evaluation of Perdix, a program developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory.

The segment culminated in a “graduation exercise” filmed by CBS that demonstrated more than 100 UAVs working together to execute a mission.

“The scale of this swarm event exceeded any known air-launched or ground-launched event by a factor of more than three,” said Alex Ordway, NAWCWD’s Perdix test engineer.

NAWCWD Executive Director John Johnson cited the test as yet another example of how China Lake’s one-of-a-kind ranges and facilities, supported by a highly technical workforce, support cutting-edge innovations for the warfighter.

“It was a great success and we at NAWCWD are proud to be part of one of the most significant tests of autonomous systems under development by the Department of Defense,” she said.

The accomplishment also inspired pride from local leaders, who celebrated the Navy’s recent achievement.

“We in Kern County have long known the importance of China Lake,” said Assemblyman Vince Fong.

“The recent national attention on the development of unmanned aerial vehicles is just a glimpse of the tremendous work being done at China Lake and in the Ridgecrest community,” he said. “China Lake has a long and rich history of helping our military defend our nation, and as we look into the future, we should be thankful for the hard work of the men and women at China Lake leading the way.”

“The CBS show ‘60 Minutes’ was very exciting, and I could not help but feel very proud of the work that takes place at China Lake,” said Kern County 1st District Supervisor, and former NAWS commanding officer, Mick Gleason.

“It clearly demonstrated the value of the work at China Lake,” he said, as well as the value to the Navy and the nation of having the land and the airspace to conduct risky work that continues to push at an incredible pace the capabilities enabled through science and technology.

“We all need to be proud of who we are, what we do and where we live.”

Pictured: CBS Correspondent David Martin interviews Dr. Will Roper (right) during a recent Perdix test at China Lake. -- U.S. Navy photo by Renee Hatcher

Story First Published: 2017-01-13