CHINA LAKE, Calif. (NNS) -- Last month U.S. and coalition forces were cautiously combing the mountainsides of Afghanistan in Operation Mountain Lion, checking caves and tunnels for booby traps, tunnel stability, air stability (methane gases), weapons and munitions and enemy hideouts.
The ongoing war in Afghanistan prompted a search for a stateside location for tunnel-warfare training. That search has resulted in the establishment of a Joint Tunnel Warfare capability at the Naval Air Systems Command facility at China Lake, Calif.
As part of its continuing mission to enable absolute combat power, NAVAIR is now offering a timely opportunity for armed forces to train within the U.S. for the real-life scenarios they will face in the Afghanistan desert.
The NAVAIR Tunnel Warfare Center offers the highest standard in warfare technology - providing weapons development, tactics development and training for ground and air forces, as well as for the intelligence communities of the U.S. and its allies during Operation Enduring Freedom.
China Lake land ranges host over 300 long-abandoned mines and tunnel complexes of various configurations with maps of their interiors. Most of these mines are very stable, having withstood a great deal of seismic activity. All of them are at a weapons-development facility operated by people with the knowledge, expertise and experience to assist in training scenarios.
Located at the same latitude as Kabul, Afghanistan, China Lake's landscape is strikingly comparable - including similar bushes, trees, and rocks. China Lake's tunnel entrances are also akin to those in Afghanistan, providing a unique training opportunity.
NAVAIR China Lake, has strong, world-class technical weapons-development capabilities - everything needed to train people, develop strategy, and test technologies developed for tunnel warfare - within an isolated Mojave Desert location, in a secure military facility, with tunnels and training available.
Existing targeting systems within the current fleet platform have some targeting and accuracy limitations. These systems were developed mainly to look for conventional hard targets such as buildings, tanks and trucks. Naval Fleet thermal targeting systems are now being characterized with the hope of developing new tactics.
One new training tactic is the Laser Guided Training Round (LGTR). The LGTR was developed to simulate a laser-guided bomb. Using the LGTR, aircrews can practice firing on targets similar to those seen in the desert terrain of Afghanistan. With no intention of destroying these reusable assets, aircrews can simulate strike missions using the mines at China Lake, without blowing anything up.
A smoke dispenser visually indicates the hit. Kneeboard cards (which carry flight and targeting information) have already been developed for F/A-18 pilots to use when employing the training rounds against tunnels.
Demonstrated by Naval Weapons Test Squadron VX-31, attendees at a recent Fleet Developmental Weapons Symposium witnessed a "bull's-eye hit" on the laser reflector that had been placed beside the tunnel and designated by a ground-based laser. For pre-deployment laser-targeting training, Fleet aviators can come to China Lake and train against tunnel targets analogous to those against which they may be flying strike missions.
With mine interior configurations similar to those in Afghanistan, China Lake also offers tremendous training opportunities for ground troops. China Lake's mines resemble the bunkers, vertical shafts and multi-level tunnel complexes troops are dealing with in Afghanistan.
As the ultimate technology provider for naval aviation technologies, NAVAIR has again responded to a warfighter need - with the highly specialized Tunnel Warfare Center - ensuring the necessary training and skill development to better equip U.S. and coalition forces.
For more news from NAVAIR, go to www.news.navy.mil/local/navair.