China Lake poised to meet emerging threats

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

China Lake poised to meet emerging threats“First and foremost, we are in a competition in this world. It’s a winner-take-all-scenario, and No. 2 is not a player. There’s first place and nothing else.”

These were among the talking points from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, passed down during a recent conference of top Navy and DOD officials, including Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Execu-tive Director Joan Johnson.

“That got everyone’s attention,” she said.

“We have not faced real competition in the last 25 years. Now, with the emergence of Russia and China as examples of global powers, we are facing an adversary, or a peer, that we have really not faced since the Cold War,” Johnson said. “And the competition is gaining on us. So that’s the stage-setter.”

That means that employees at China Lake, along with the other uniformed and civilian contributors to defense, come to work every day with a sense of urgency, anxiety and discomfort.

“That really resonated with me,” said Johnson. “I thought, ‘We can’t sit on our laurels.’ But I also thought that’s who we are at NAWCWD. We set aggressive goals and do everything possible to exceed them.”

This can-do culture is recognized by local leadership, as well as those at higher levels of the organization. “Today we are as relevant, if not more, as we have ever been in the history of China Lake.”

The slowing advancement of defense capabilities is attributed in part to the growing complexity of systems interoperability in the information age — every platform, every sensor, every weapon and every console must be able to talk to one another in a contested environment.

“NAWCWD is playing a very critical role in developing the technical standards, the technologies and the fielded capabilities specific to networked weapons, sensors and next-generation electronic warfare,” said Johnson.

“Similarly, we are evolving our laboratories and ranges and the infrastructure that’s associated with that to keep pace with those future capabilities — of our forces as well as our adversaries.”

Some of the most exciting developments include the strides in autonomous systems, which are now communicating with each other and learning from that data flow in real time. “It’s the precursor to artificial intelligence,” she said.

And the direct applications to both kinetic and nonkinetic effects in the battlespace are endless.

These capabilities have been on display to a stream of high-profile visitors from government and the Navy over the last couple of years.

Johnson said that attention is an acknowledgement of NAWCWD’s role in the future of naval forces.

“The smart people in our labs are right at the center of where the Navy needs to go. China Lakers are doing cutting-edge work in tactical weapons, aircraft sensors and electronic warfare systems.”

But many of those visitors also want to witness first-hand the culture that has grown out of NAWCWD. “This is a very git-’er-done, mission-focused, warfighter-first culture. We hear time and time again, ‘You’re doing great work, you’re doing the right work, and I don’t know what your secret is here, but it’s so clear to every person who visits that you are completely focused and passionate about what you do.’”

That ability to close the gap between a need for capability and a solution is what attracted Johnson here in the first place.

“I came here from industry and I spent a lot of time at China Lake bringing our systems down to the ranges to test. And I said. ‘I want to be a part of this,’”

Rear. Adm. Brian Corey, NAWCWD commander, has been working with Johnson to ratchet up the speed-to-fleet process. One of the keys for that has been the inclusion of funding through the National Defense Authorization Act that allows China Lake to put money toward solutions in emerging threats.

Johnson said she believes another asset to the local mission is the community that supports it. “I have not been in this job very long, but I sincerely appreciate the fact that there is an open dialog between the base and the community. Everyone who works on the base is completely vested in the Indian Wells Valley, because when we leave work we are all citizens.”

As needs are identified, leaders on both sides of the fence come together to address them. One area that is being looked at is housing — particularly in the rental market — for new recruits. Johnson said that a 2015 survey among millennials in the workforce highlighted other amenities that strengthen recruitment and retention efforts.

“The millennials are going to be our leaders of tomorrow, so we want them to stay,” she said.

“But I don’t think they came expecting a city of malls. Most of them love the feel of the community, the mountains and the open spaces. But they have some really neat ideas for what we can to do improve quality of life without totally changing our identity.”

Pictured: In a recent visit, former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (left) tours the base with Rear Adm. Brian Corey and Joan Johnson. -- U.S. Navy photo

Story First Published: 2017-04-07