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Advanced weapon testing expansion moves forward at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station

The entrance to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in Ridgecrest, Calif., on June 3, 2019. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

The warfare of the future is being tested at China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, but the military base has determined that it needs more space to fulfill its mission.

China Lake has completed the process of acquiring around 50 square miles on the eastern portion of its south range to conduct testing on a variety of fighting techniques including “directed-energy” weapons and “electromagnetic events.”

Navy documents describe a range of tests that could take place at the new site that could occur on the battlegrounds of the future.

In scenarios laid out in the documents, the Navy says it plans to test new weapons that at one point seemed like flourishes of imagination in science fiction novels.

For instance, the documents say the Navy could test the effectiveness of directed-energy weapons – sometimes referred to as lasers – against airplanes, manned or otherwise.

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Another potential test could involve the use of electromagnetic waves to detect and counter improvised explosive devices.

Ground troop exercises are also expected to take place.

The Navy says it needs to acquire the new land to ensure military readiness, and local groups raised few concerns during the planning of the expansion.

The new site will complement existing ranges on the military base, allowing for more flexible testing schedules.

“Having this extra range is necessary for the growth of the effectiveness of the warfighter and also it frees up ranges for more efficient testing,” said Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason, who previously served as the commanding officer of China Lake.

The land in question is the site of an old Air Force base in northern San Bernardino County known as the Cuddeback Range. The Air Force had withdrawn from the land, which had been in the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management before the Navy took it over.

An Environmental Assessment completed by the Navy found no significant impacts would occur as a result of the expansion.

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The Desert Tortoise Council in Palmdale raised concerns that the new site might negatively impact the threatened species found in that general area. The Navy said it would implement mitigation measures to offset any potential impacts of the expansion.

At 1.1 million acres split among two locations, China Lake is already the Navy’s single largest property, according to the Navy’s website. Around 85 percent of the Navy’s land for testing is located at the military base, which is spread across Kern, San Bernardino and Inyo counties.

Following the conclusion of the environmental assessment, the Navy is free to begin using the land for its proposed use, said Spokeswoman Margo Allen.

She said she did not know when the testing would begin and noted that most of the personnel on the base were busy with repairs made necessary by the two large earthquakes that rocked the region in July, causing an estimated $5.2 billion in damage.

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© 2019 The Bakersfield Californian