China Lake returns to its roots

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

To understand the resurgence of China Lake’s new “Good Old Days,” one must look back at the origins of the remote installation. It was 1943. The U.S. was locked in its most desperate conflict, and our leaders knew the outcome could be decided in a matter of hours. To ensure victory, we needed a miraculous surge in our technological capabilities.

And so the grand experiment began. The Navy, a natural innovator by virtue of its global mission and inherently treacherous maritime environment, partnered with scientists of the California Institute of Technology and pressed forward to find solutions for national defense.

These early decades, when groundbreaking discoveries and capabilities were largely unfettered by today’s resource constraints and increasingly cautious protocols, are acknowledged by many as the glory years.

The U.S. was propelled forward in terms of capability, and the desperation that prompted the founding of China Lake receded. How-ever, in subsequent years, increasingly conservative protocols have eroded that advantage.

We are no longer living in a world where our nation can rest comfortably on its superior technical capability, said NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags. To recover that edge, “we need to be able to get capability to the fleet when they need it.”

He said that risk-averse culture, over the last 20-25 years, has seen the Navy “layer conservatism on top of conservatism on top of conservatism.”

Deferring solutions intended for future strike groups could be afforded because the threat was not pressing enough to demand more speed.

“I’ve heard it said many times over the last couple of days the system is too slow in delivering new capabilities to the fleet — in large part due to the risk-averse culture,” Andy Gibbs of General Atomics told a panel of Navy leadership at last September’s Tailhook conference, then asked, “What is the plan to address that in the Navy? And what can industry do to help?”

Grosklags credited Rear Adm. Brian Corey and his team at China Lake with already taking up the charge. “I’ll tell you, our engineering team at NAVAIR is my best example of folks who are leaning forward right now.”

But while technical innovators are at the leading edge, Grosklags said, the challenge is to get the “business side of the house” — attorneys, financial analysts and stewards — to lean forward as well.

“While we’ve got plenty to work on inside our house, we’ve got to convince some of the rest of the system,” he said.

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Story First Published: 2017-03-10