Carter highlights defense budget at advanced weapons testing facility

Greg Nash

NAVAL AIR WEAPONS STATION CHINA LAKE, Calif. — In a weapons testing facility deep in the heart of the Mojave Desert, the U.S. Navy is testing a weapon it hopes will help it keep the edge over China in the Pacific: a long range anti-ship missile known as the "LRASM." 

Pronounced "le-rah-sim," the LRASM is a stealthy anti-ship cruise missile that was ordered in 2013 by then-Pacific Command Commander Adm. Samuel J. Locklear as an urgent capability against Chinese ships. 

It is at this naval facility that the LRASM, manufactured by Lockheed, has successfully conducted its first phase of testing to hit a simulated maritime target versus a fixed, hardened target the missile is usually intended for. 

It will be ready to deploy in 2018, said an engineer in charge of the testing.

The LRASM is just one of several weapons Defense Secretary Ash Carter saw during a visit to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake this week, in order to illustrate his 2017 Pentagon budget priorities. 

The Pentagon will spend almost $1 billion on the LRASM over the next five years or so, Carter told reporters ahead of the budget rollout next Tuesday. 

He also said the Pentagon will also spend $2 billion during that time to bring the Navy's existing Tomahawk missile stockpile to 4,000 and improve their lethality. 

It will also spend $418 million over the future years defense program, or FYDP, on anti-radiation homing missiles, he said.  

"Big money for munitions — that's important," Carter said at the facility. 

"These are large investments in the strategic future at the high end, aimed at making sure that our systems have the greatest capability, the greatest lethality...of anybody else," he said. 

Carter previewed the administration's 2017 defense budget request on Tuesday, which will focus on maintaining the edge in high-end technology against near-peer competitors, namely Russia and China. 

"Russia and China are our most stressing competitors," Carter said in his budget preview speech earlier Tuesday. 

"They have developed and are continuing to advance military systems that seek to threaten our advantages in specific areas, and in some cases, they are developing weapons and ways of war that seek to achieve their objectives rapidly, before they hope we can respond," he said. 

"While we do not desire conflict of any kind with any of these nations — and let me be clear, though they pose some similar defense challenges they are very different nations and situations — we also cannot blind ourselves to the actions they appear to choose to pursue," he added. 

Carter also viewed a "small glide munition" -- a lightweight precision missile at the naval facility, which was built as a testing site for the Manhattan Project.  

About 10 of the missiles carried by one drone could carry the same firepower as a whole squadron of B-17s, said Greg Wheelock, the director of energetics at the facility's Naval Air Warfare Center.   

"I can't describe everything we saw here today, but that's actually a sign, we like to surprise people, and so some of our opponents will find themselves surprised when this stuff gets into the field, which is going to be very soon," Carter said, referring to the classified nature of some of the programs. 

"They all are in that same direction of high end capability, and increasing and really multiplying the capability of our individual ships and aircraft and actually submarines for that matter also, so that we not only have the best platforms, but they have the highest end capability," he said.