Gala caps anniversary celebration

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Gala caps anniversary celebrationBob Campbell and Dee DiPol dance to the swinging tunes of Big Band X-Press at the end of the China Lake Museum Foundation’s gala in honor of the 75th anniversary of the base — Photo by Laura Austin

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Hundreds turned out this weekend for the capstone celebration of the 75th anniversary of China Lake — reuniting with old friends, making new friends and bonding over the culture, history and achievements of the military-civilian partnership in our remote desert community.

“I think it was wonderful to see the way our community came together to celebrate the anniversary of the base,” said Laura Hickle, president of the China Lake Museum Foundation, which hosted Saturday night’s gala and several other activities over the weekend.

“Our intent was to attract a diverse participation, and I think we achieved that. We had military men and women, people who had retired from the base, young engineers and scientists on base, people who had never worked on base.”

The feedback she received was overwhelmingly positive, she said. “One of the highlights was Vice Adm. Mike Moran and Scott O’Neil giving such an interesting history of the base.” She said people also enjoyed the entertainment, which included performances by the Farris Family Singers, Ridgecrest Children’s Choir and Big Band X-Press.

Moran was a previous commander of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, before being assigned as deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

He opened his keynote address by commenting on the bond between the local base and community. “I firmly believe the strength of that relationship is, and will continue to be, key to any success the superb workforce at China Lake will be able to realize for this great country of ours.”

Moran took his listeners back to the harrowing time during World War II when, fueled by the urgent need to catch up to our global adversaries, the Navy and the California Institute of Technology partnered in a “Grand Experiment” to develop, and field, rapid advancements in rocket technology.

“It was clear to our national leaders that wars were won and lost not only by trained and committed forces, but also by the effectiveness of the weapons employed,” said O’Neil, who stood up from the audience to join Moran for the presentation.

O’Neil served as the executive director — the top civilian position at China Lake — during Moran’s tenure here from 2013-15.

The two continued to recount the history of how China Lake helped push developments that helped Allied Forces in WWII — including the significant support of atomic bomb development by the Salt Wells Pilot Plant at China Lake.

That laboratory environment would continue to push development for national defense.

“The core operating principle and key to this ‘Grand Experiment’ was the partnership between civilian and military workers, which came to be known as the ‘China Lake Way,’” said Moran. “It made clear that civilian scientists worked in partnership with the military, not in subordination to it.”

That joint leadership facilitated the flexibility to create an environment where innovation was cherished and rewarded, he said.

Throughout the decades — on a backdrop of shifting threats, advancing technology and changing leadership — China Lake continued to churn out new weapons, new capabilities and new insights into modern warfare.

“The post-Cold War era brought a multitude of challenges,” said O’Neil. “The defense industrial base consolidated and the Defense Department downsized.”

During the 1990s, China Lake’s workforce was reduced by half. While the community felt the negative effects of that shrinking economic engine, the mission lost critical knowledge and skill sets that defined and underpinned the work here. “The Grand Experiment was waning,” said O’Neil.

The base was realigned under the Naval Aviation Systems Command — primarily responsible for acquisition of aircraft, sensors and weapons — and the local focus shifted accordingly.

“China Lake’s entrepreneurial spirit shined bright despite these challenging times and found opportunities to make a difference,” said Moran.

During this period, weapons software systems support activities matured, leading to an era of integration for increasingly complex systems. As reflected in China Lake’s name change, the mission became centered on warfare, not just weapons.

“The new millennium brought new hope and energy,” said O’Neil. “China Lake had weathered the storm, but was weakened by the change.” However, advancements in warfighter capabilities driven at China Lake helped re-establish the relevance of local contributions.

Modern engineers and scientists have redefined how to affect a target — which can include disarming and disabling as well as destroying — and how to refine our way of ultimately locating those targets.

“Today’s technology enables us to solve [Dr. William B.] McLean’s dilemma of defeating Soviet bombers with simpler weapons,” said O’Neil. Applications of China Lake technology helped the drive toward simplified technology nodes that could be put together in unlimited ways to adapt to an increasingly complex kill chain.

“This work is absolutely vital in helping the Navy stay ahead of its adversaries and critical to ensuring the technological superiority that was first enabled by the efforts of China Lakers right here in the desert,” said Moran.

“So … we end this talk as we started. The need to secure our national interests is real and the requirement to rapidly develop new technologically advanced capabilities is an imperative.

“The message from our leadership could not be more clear. We can no longer be complacent, we must accept risk where appropriate and we must accelerate the pace of our developments and procurements to ensure the security of this great nation of ours,” Moran continued.

“There is no organization better positioned to execute this tasking than China Lake. So as we celebrate the tremendous history of this organization tonight, let us re-embrace the Grand Experiment, revitalize the China Lake Way and secure our nation’s future for those who follow.”

Story First Published: 2018-11-16