Navy Awards $737M for China Lake Airfield Repairs Following 2019 Earthquake Damage

September 14, 2020 7:26 PM
Faultline on China Lake on Oct. 17, 2019. US Geological Survey Photo

The Navy last week issued contracts worth at least $737 million for new airfield capabilities at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., where two major earthquakes last year damaged critical facilities at the premier base for research, testing and evaluation that remains not fully operational.

The July 2019 earthquakes severely damaged facilities on the east side of the airfield.

“Replacement facilities were planned in an undeveloped area on the south side of the airfield due to space limitations on the east side, and in order to maintain continuity of existing operations during construction,” Naval Facilities Engineering Command-Southwest officials said in a news release about the latest contract award. “Six projects, comprising the new South Airfield Complex, were combined into a single task order for efficiency during construction.”

The facilities will be built to modern seismic codes on land just south of NAWS China Lake’s existing airfield known as Armitage Field. The projects are: Hangar 3 replacement, apron, taxiway and utilities for research, development, test and evaluation; integration laboratory; air operations facility and air traffic control tower; aircraft parking apron to support the replacement of Hangar 2; an advanced warfare hangar; and a structural/aircraft fire and rescue station.

Environmental Chemical Corp., a Burlingame, Calif.-based firm, got the contract to design and construct the South Airfield Complex, the Defense Department announced Sept. 10. Construction is slated for completion by November 2023.

The contract, awarded by San Diego, Calif.-based NAVFAC Southwest, includes an additional $40 million in unexercised options and planned modifications including “enhanced seismic resiliency, concrete exterior, plant material, generator, uninterruptible power supply, outdoor kitchen, electronic security system, aircraft protective enclosures, tensile fabric structures and above ground magazines,” as well as “collateral equipment, audio visual, furniture, fixtures and equipment.”

“This task order award is a landmark action by the entire NAVFAC Systems Command in support of the NAWS China Lake earthquake recovery effort, and is an important part of restoring the installation to its full operational capability,” Capt. Mike Oestereicher, NAVFAC Southwest’s commanding officer, said in a news release.
“It represents a significant portion of the funding allocated toward the overall recovery effort, and will restore lost airfield mission capability to NAWS China Lake.”

The contracts mark the largest contract issued to date for reconstruction of China Lake. At 1.1 million acres, the weapons station is the Navy’s largest single property. Its tenants include Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, which falls under Naval Air Systems Command. The facility has long has supported advanced development, testing and evaluation of weapons systems, from aircraft and missiles to advanced swarming drones, all supported by an array of test facilities and instrumented land and air ranges, the expansive Michelson Lab complex and propulsion laboratories.

The two earthquakes – registering 6.4 magnitude on July 4, 2019, and 7.1 magnitude the following day – rocked the Mojave desert region. The tremblers knocked items off the commissary shelves, opened gashes along roads, shifted railroad tracks and extensively damaged 1,341 – or more than 60 percent – of its buildings and facilities. These included older buildings such as the installation’s All-Faith Chapel that weren’t built to or hadn’t been updated to more modern, stricter earthquake codes.

Both earthquakes’ epicenters were within the property, not far from the “mainside” headquarters area, airfield and critical RDT&E facilities. Navy officials haven’t publicly detailed the broader impacts on operations and RDT&E, but the damage was so extensive that it reduced mission capabilities at the weapons station for some time.

“Development and award of a project this large in such a short time is virtually unprecedented, and is the culmination of the tireless efforts of an amazing team of professionals across NAVFAC and multiple stakeholders and support organizations,” Cmdr. Dan Stokes, NAVFAC Southwest assistant operations officer, said in the release.
“We look forward to getting the South Airfield construction effort underway and returning NAWS China Lake back to full operational readiness.”

According to the contract announcement, all the new facilities will “be constructed with reinforced concrete foundation and floors, steel vertical frames, concrete masonry unit and metal panel walls in accordance with modern seismic code.”

The weapons station had 2,132 buildings and facilities, 329 miles of paved roads and 1,801 miles of unpaved roads, as well as its main air facility called Armitage Field, all valued at some $3 billion. About 620 active-duty military, 4,166 civilian employees and 1,734 contractors worked at the weapons station, which is also home to Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons 31 and 9, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southwest China Lake Detachment, Marine Aviation Detachment, and several Navy explosive ordnance disposal detachments.

Lee Saunders, a NAVFAC Southwest spokesman, said the command has established an officer-in-charge of construction, or OICC, office at China Lake. The OICC will oversee what’s expected to be numerous contracts and task orders for new construction as well as renovations of damaged buildings and structures.

The first major contract was a $99.8-million task order awarded in April for the design and construction of 25 new ordnance magazines and an inert storage facility, built to modern seismic codes, according to NAVFAC Southwest.

“Mission critical operations and RDT&E support to the fleet were adversely impacted by the damaged magazines, with ordnance being jam-stowed in the handful of remaining adequate magazines or shipped off-base to other sites,” Oestereicher said in a news release at the time. “This project will restore that lost capability and help bring NAWS China Lake back up to full readiness.”

The task order, awarded to Reyes Construction of Pomona, Calif., includes demolition of an inert storage facility and 32 magazines damaged by the earthquakes, as well as construction of electrical, telecommunications, intrusion detection systems, roadway and apron paving, a bridge crane and positive drainage for the new magazines and storage facility.

Construction on the new magazines is expected to be done by August 2022.

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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