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Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, known for WWII bomb tests, may get big check for earthquake repairs

The entrance to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in Ridgecrest, Calif., on June 3, 2019.

GARY CORONADO/LOS ANGELES TIMES (TNS)

By EMILY CADEI AND TARA COPP | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: July 12, 2019

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. House unanimously approved a measure to authorize $100 million for repairs to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which was near the epicenter of last week’s California desert earthquakes.

The sprawling 1.1 million acre station, which tests and develops military technology, sustained significant damage in the 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude quakes which struck the Southern California desert on July 4 and 5. While flight operations resumed Wednesday, the base remains closed to non-essential personnel, but may re-open as early as July 15.

“There has been significant progress made on inspecting and executing appropriate repairs to family housing,” the base said in a message to residents Thursday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., introduced the funding proposal as an amendment to annual defense authorization legislation, which passed the House Friday.

In addition to authorizing $100 million for repairs at the naval station, it requires the Department of Defense to develop a plan by Oct. 1 to assess, repair and modernize the facilities at China Lake and other installations in the region damaged by the earthquake. That includes Fort Irwin in San Bernardino County and Edwards Air Force Base in Kern County.

Neither Fort Irwin nor Edwards Air Force Base sustained significant damage in the quakes, although an off-base air control tower that supports operations at Edwards was damaged, according to the Air Force.

Personnel from Edwards also provided emergency response support to China Lake after the July 5 earthquake.

The amendment passed the House Thursday night on a voice vote, signaling it is non-controversial and has a strong chance of being included in the final legislation that the House and Senate agree upon. The defense authorization bill is one of the few pieces of legislation Congress consistently passes each year.

McCarthy noted in remarks on the House floor that because of the earthquake-related damage, China Lake is currently not mission capable.

“This is significant because China Lake, along with neighboring installations, form a cornerstone of our national defense architecture that integrates all operational domains — air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace,” McCarthy said. “The men and women who work here help test and develop the technology needed to equip our warfighters with the very best weapons and tools to ensure our military remains second to none.”

The China Lake station is the Navy’s largest single landholding, housing more than 2,000 buildings and facilities, as well as residue and remnants of decades of test range firing on the nations most advanced missiles and rockets.

The base was established in 1943 and was the site of parts of the design, testing and development and test drops for the explosive for Fat Man, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945 and multiple test drops of the first atomic bomb Little Boy, which was dropped on Hiroshima Japan Aug. 6, 1945.

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