NAWCWD Completes Most Complex Weapons Survivability Tests to Date


Figure 1 An LFT&E Missile Approaching a KC-46 Tanker During the Weapons Survivability Test at NAWCWD’s WSL on April 7. The LFT&E missile is the first of its kind, with a custom-designed warhead to evaluate the highest threat scenario possible (WSL photo)

by Brian Wulfekotte and Ron Schiller

On 7 April 2015, the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) successfully supported the KC-46 tanker program with the most detailed, advanced weapons survivability test series ever conducted at the Weapons Survivability Lab (WSL) in China Lake, CA.  The KC-46, a derivative of the commercially available Boeing 767-2C, is a refueling aircraft.  An estimated 179 KC-46’s will be procured to replace one third of the existing aerial refueling fleet.


Figure 2 The KC-46 Weapons Survivability Test at the WSL. On the left (in white) is the High-Velocity Airflow System, which fired its nine jet engines to simulate realistic flying conditions of the KC-46 (far right). In the center is the cannon that fired a live warhead into the aircraft’s left pylon (U.S. Navy photo by Mark P. McCoy).

“Excellent tests,” said Mr. Scott Wacker, a KC-46 lead engineer and weapons survivability expert.  “These have never been done before, so I’m happy to say that we met all our objectives.  I believe that we are advancing the state of the art in understanding vulnerability in aircraft.”


Figure 3 Program Officials at the KC-46 Weapons Survivability Test at the WSL. From left to right are Jeff Wuich (KC-46 Program Office), Scott Wacker (KC-46 Program Office), 1st Lt. Kerollos Marzouk (KC-46 Program Office), Ron Schiller (WSL Engineering Section Head), Col. Chris Coombs (KC-46 Program Office), Bill Franklin (KC-46 Program Office), Lt. Col. Pete Sandness (KC-46 Program Office), and Jay Kovar (WSL Branch Head) (U.S. Navy photo by Mark P. McCoy).

The tests, which were outlined by the KC-46 Live Fire Test and Evaluation Program (LFT&E) and witnessed by representatives from NAWCWD, Boeing, the Air Force, the Institute for Defense Analyses, and other stakeholder organizations, will be used to assess KC-46 system-level survivability in high-fidelity operational environments against ballistic and advanced threats.  The results provided a wide range of data that are instrumental in mitigating worst-case scenarios for the aircraft, which will directly improve and preserve warfighting capability.

“There were over 330 channels collecting raw data, 10 high-speed cameras recording 10,000 to 100,000 frames per second, and 30 real-time video feeds,” said KC-46 LFT&E engineer Eric Brickson.  “We had a very extensive list of requirements, and NAWCWD met them all.”

“It was a very successful test,” added Air Force Col. Chris Coombs.  “We designed these tests against the aircraft to see how it would perform, so we’d know if the people, whether they are pilots, operators or passengers, could survive on this plane under the most relevant of circumstances.”

The WSL consists of six separate test sites, including an engineering and test coordination lab, multiple shops (including machine, sheet metal, jet engine, assembly, coatings, and welding), and a test article preparation area. The WSL provides engineering, test planning and execution, instrumentation, data acquisition and controls, and video and communication networking capabilities.


Mr. Brian Wulfekotte works for the NAWCWD Public Affairs Office.

Mr. Ron Schiller is the Range Engineering Section Head for NAWCWD’s WSL.  He has supported survivability LFT&E efforts at China Lake for the past 20 years.  He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from California State University, Fresno, and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from California State University, Northridge.