Damage to the Navy Exchange at China Lake on July 6, 2019, after powerful earthquakes struck the base. (U.S. Navy photo by NEXCOM Public Affairs)

With $5B Quake Damage and a Critical Mission, China Lake Maps Out Base Repairs

The massive temblor that hit Southern California’s Mojave Desert on the Fourth of July — along with dozens of powerful aftershocks — caused damage to the sprawling yet secluded Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake that could cost more than $5 billion.

In a report on damage assessment prepared for a reconstruction forum earlier this month, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southwest said the base was hit by at least 288 quakes counting the July 4 6.4 shaker, the July 5 7.1 temblor and all of the aftershocks greater than magnitude 4.0 from July 4-13 and greater than magnitude 2.5 through the end of July.

Damage was studied at 3,598 facilities, many highly specialized, across 1.1 million acres. Members of the base’s public works team as well as contractors returned the installation to partially mission capable, but a daunting task lies ahead: replacing buildings would cost $2.2 billion alone, and projects include repair for buildings less than 30 years old, upgrades for buildings 30-50 years old, and replacement of the oldest buildings. Facilities on the replacement list include hangars, control and operations centers, laboratories, air traffic control tower, and various testing facilities.

Damaged facilities slated for upgrades due to their age range from the detonation science office to the commissary and the research and development Thompson Laboratory.

“I want to return combat capability to China Lake as fast as I can,” Capt. Mark Edelson, NAVFAC Southwest commanding officer, told contractors at the Aug. 1 forum in San Diego. “That’s my job. I hope you want to do a little of it with me, take on another challenge, push yourself a little harder, and do something else for the United States.”

This fiscal year, the base will focus on fixing utilities and roads, conducting necessary demolitions, repairing projects under $50,000, establishing temporary facilities where needed, and prioritizing “facilities unsafe or restricted with high mission dependency.” In FY 2020, upgrades and replacement work are on the list, but funding is not yet available.

NAVFAC said the airfields at the base are “working reasonably well” but the load is also lighter as some missions have been moved to other bases. “Wing 8 (the machine shop) had the most damage, is about 200,000 SF, 3 stories high and structurally different than the other wings. Ranges are not fully capable.”

“Security will be fairly tight” for contractor staff coming onto the base, and “workers may need to stay on site for lunch and not move from location to location until work is completed for the day.” There are also “tight restrictions on areas like SCIFs” and clearance may be needed to repair quake damage in these areas.

“One thing we need to do is explain what happens operationally at China Lake. It is actually the only place you can do what they do there. We need a place away from major population areas so that warfighting capability can be tested,” NAVFAC explained. “…We are looking heavily at DB for replacement projects. We won’t have time to do a lot of full designs. We have collected data that shows 1,381 buildings within a giant spreadsheet that categorizes the damages. At this time, NAVFAC is using an architect-engineer (A-E) firm and damage assessment teams (DATs) to determine which buildings are safe to occupy.”

There’s also one concrete manufacturer in town, and NAVFAC acknowledged he “may not be able to keep up with demand” and would be free to double his prices.

Ridgecrest, the most populated city near the epicenter, got away with just a theater and a gym being red-tagged due to earthquake damage.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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