Ran in The Rocketeer on 3 September 1998

JDAMs dropped on China Lake ranges by EAFB

By Cliff Lawson
HEAVYWEIGHT--A B-52H releases a JDAM over the Land Range
China Lake, CA-Have you noticed the aircraft around here are getting bigger? During the past year, an increase in Air Force test operations has brought the DoD's bombing heavyweights - the B-1, B-2, and B-52 - into NAWCWPNS airspace.

These are behemoths. Maximum takeoff weight for a B-52H is close to half a million pounds, or about 10 times the entire weight of a fully loaded F/A-18CD. The bombers, staged out of Edwards Air Force Base, have been testing the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) as part of the aircraft/weapon integration process.

JDAM is a joint Air Force/Navy program to develop a hybrid weapon system: an inertial navigation system/global-positioning-system guidance kit added to the Mk-84 and BLU-109 2,000-pound bombs. Prior to release, the weapon is continuously updated by aircraft avionics systems. After medium to high-altitude release, the bomb's navigation systems take over and guide to the target regardless of weather.

ON TARGET--A JDAM detonates above a stacked sea van target on Airport Lake.
Why are Air Force bombers using a Navy range? Because in weapons testing, size counts. The Land Range has more than enough room for the large maximum-hazard footprint of high-altitude-launched JDAM. For the same reason, the Air Force uses the NAWCWPNS Sea Range for medium- and long-range, air-launched, live-warhead missile shots. "We can accommodate just about anything they can throw at us," says James Lloyd, a test manager in the Pacific Ranges and Facilities Department.

There are other good reasons for Air Force use of the ranges. Distance is one. From the runway at Edwards to China Lake's G-Range is a mere 60 miles, as the B-52 flies. Or as PR&F Department Head Sandy Rogers puts it with just a touch of exaggeration, "By the time their wheels are in the wells, they're over our ranges." NAWCWPNS ranges are by far the closest that can accommodate the JDAM hazard footprint.

Closeness means significant cost savings. "We burn about 20,000 pounds of fuel per flight hour," says Capt. Chris Nelson, B-52 flight test engineer. And closeness also saves money on logistics. Normally, testing outside of Edwards requires that the testing organization send a detachment of support personnel to the host base. For tests at NAWCWPNS land and sea ranges, no detachments are necessary. A sophisticated microwave link connecting the NAWCWPNS Range Control Center and Edwards' Ridley Mission Control Center allows tracking and impact video, encrypted telemetry, and communications to be relayed to Edwards for real-time mission control.

Instrumentation is another draw. "Our telemetry capabilities are a big plus," says Lloyd. "We can track up to six bombs simultaneously and record the data as well as display it in near-real time, right down to high-accuracy impact scoring. This is important, because with JDAM there are lots of things that have to mesh together properly. Our upgraded RCCSII [Range Computational and Control System II] and the Silicon Graphics Dataview system are very engineer-friendly."

The occasional mid-test problem may be handled differently as well. If an F/A-18 from Armitage Field encounters an anomaly during a test, the aircraft will often return to base. The pilot and test personnel will then attempt to determine the cause of the problem.

The Air Force bomber crews work the issue on the spot. "They'll stay on station and try, and try again to fix that problem. They'll reload software on their computers, do whatever they can on board to avoid returning to Edwards without getting the test off," says test manager Debra Hollingsworth.

CLUSTER--JDAMS loaded on a B-52
Steve Yamaguchi, the Air Force Flight Test Center's B-52/JDAM Project Manager, explains, "We have more fuel than a fighter. We can make sure we've exhausted all the airborne options before having to return to base." The vast majority of the tests thus far have been successfully concluded. "We've had excellent support from China Lake," Yamaguchi says.

B-52s from Edwards have also been flying on the NAWCWPNS Sea Range, at 500 feet above the water, for Harpoon vibration and acoustic testing. "We need to exercise the system at sea-level dynamic pressures to make sure everything performs correctly," explains Yamaguchi. Despite the advantages of inter-service range use, it doesn't just happen. Contacts need to be established and capabilities mutually understood.

According to Rogers, James Lloyd has been a prime factor in bringing Air Force testing to NAWCWPNS. "James was the key to making this happen," says Rogers. "He's well liked at Edwards. Cooperation at the technical level is what makes these operations work."

Rogers also credits Rob Ostrom, head of the Land Range Office, with getting the Air Force and Navy players together. "Rob took our test engineers down to Edwards for a day-long briefing. Then he brought several members of their test force up here and briefed them on everything from the Range Control Center operations to how our billing system works."

What is the key to making NAWCWPNS a more valuable asset - not only to the Navy but to non-Navy customers? When asked this question, Rogers does not hesitate for a moment. "You have to perform!" If the increase in Air Force business is any indication, NAWCWPNS range personnel are performing well indeed.