Hypersonic Missile Program Heralds The Return Of George Air Force Base

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered the reestablishment of a major military program at Southern California Logistics Airport.
The airport is the site of the former George Air Force Base, which came into existence in 1941 as the 2,200-acre Victor Army Air Corps Station during the run-up to the United States’ entry into World War II. The air base was renamed in honor of Harold Huston George, an Army Air Corps General killed in a flying mishap during the war, and it was folded into the Air Force when the Army Air Corps was reorganized to become the U.S. Air Force as a result of the National Security Act of 1947. Its four-runway configuration included one which is 15,049 feet long, making it the second-longest runway in the United States and currently the 13th longest runway in the world.
As an Air Force Base it was host to the 27th, 71st, 94th, 327th, 329th and 518th fighter-interceptor squadrons, the 31st, 35th, 413th and 479th tactical fighter wings, the 39th, 561st and 562nd tactical fighter squadrons, the 563rd Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, the 452nd Bombardment Wing; and the 21st, 116th and 131st bomber wings. The Air Force’s pilots at George flew B-26 Invaders, F-51 Mustangs, F-86 Sabres, F-100 Super Sabres, F-102 Delta Daggers, F-104 Starfighters, F-106 Delta Darts, F-105 Thunderchiefs and F-4 Phantoms.
As a military base it was in use during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War. As a military asset during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, there was a nuclear mission at George Air Force Base, with interceptors armed with both atomic and nuclear tipped missiles intended to shoot down enemy bombers as well as incoming ballistic missiles.
As the result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1988, George was shuttered in 1992. The City of Victorville, working under the aegis of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, a joint powers effort involving Victorville, the County of San Bernardino, the City of Hesperia and the Town of Apple Valley, provided to the Department of Defense a competing alternative to that submitted by the City of Adelanto for taking on ownership of the base property. After Victorville secretly underwrote the legal costs for the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, known by its acronym VVEDA, and the City of Adelanto burned through more than $20 million in redevelopment agency funds to wage its side of the legal battle, in 1995 the Department of Defense rendered a decision entrusting the civilian use conversion of the base property to VVEDA. In 1997, it was revealed that the Victor Valley Economic Development Agency was essentially a shill for Victorville when VVEDA ceded ownership and the development responsibilities of the air base, at that point referred to as Southern California Logistics Airport, to the City of Victorville. The City of Victorville thereafter, in June 1997, in conjunction with its redevelopment agency, formed the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority, the board for which is the Victorville City Council. The authority runs the airport.
In the years after the city’s takeover of the aerodrome, the Department of Defense continued to carry out military-related operations there. Under Title 49, United States Code, subtitle VII, an airport receiving financial assistance from the United States government is required to make its facility available without charge for use by federal aircraft in common with other aircraft, with the proviso that the federal government will cover what is deemed a reasonable and proportionate share of the operational and maintenance cost of its use of the facilities.
In August 2008, the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing, based out of March Air Reserve Base, entered into an airport joint use agreement with the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority as a result of its substantial use of the facility to fly its MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial system craft for the purpose of performing flight training. The agreement defined Southern California Logistic Airport Authority’s maintenance and operational responsibilities, regulated the activities of the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing, and provided a means by which the authority was to be compensated for allowing the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing to use its aeronautical facilities. Early in 2009, the 452nd Air Mobility Wing expressed interest in conducting nighttime flight training with its C-17 cargo aircraft at the Southern California Logistics Airport for the purpose of training pilots to land without airfield lighting, using only night vision goggles. On May 1, 2009, a follow-on airport joint use agreement was executed that replaced the previous one that covered both the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing and the 452nd Air Mobility Wing activities. The second airport joint use agreement expired on April 30, 2014. Starting in the fall of 2013, Southern California Logistics Airport staff approached both the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing and the 452nd Air Mobility Wing to initiate discussions intended to ensure the timely execution of a new agreement. Those discussions bogged down over the next eight months when the 452nd Air Mobility Wing expressed its expectation that the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority – meaning the City of Victorville – would fund and construct a new runway specifically dedicated to meeting the C-17 crew training needs. As city staff believed such a request was financially unreasonable and not tenable, city staff proferred multiple compromise solutions that involved what city staff characterized as “reasonable” modifications to one of the existing Southern California Logistics Airport runways to better accommodate the 452nd Air Mobility Wing. Ultimately, the 452nd Air Mobility Wing chose to utilize other airfield accommodations within the purview of the Department of Defense, thus declining to enter another in another airfield use agreement with the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority.
According to C. Eric Ray, the City of Victorville’s airport director, “Concurrent discussions with the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing were central to determining the reasonable cost for their proportionate use of the airfield. The 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing adamantly disputed the cost of operating and maintaining the Southern California Logistics Airport airfield and purported lower aircraft operations counts. Ultimately, successful negotiation produced a new five-year airport joint use agreement that expired on June 30, 2019. Thereafter, the 163rd Air Reconnaissance Wing relocated all operations to March Air Reserve Base and declared the Air Force hangar facilities at Southern California Logistics Airport surplus.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the Russian military was pursuing the development of hypersonic missiles capable of carrying both nuclear and conventional weapon payloads. Capable of reaching roughly seven times the speed of sound or Mach 7, about 5,370 miles per hour, such weapons are very likely capable of overwhelming the anti-missile capability that the United States has pursued and cultivated over the last six decades. The Russians developed several models of the hypersonic missile, including the Avangard hypersonic weapon, which was tested and put into service in 2019, the 3M22 Tsirkon, which can be land launched, air launched or ship launched and is both nuclear and conventional armament capable, and the air-launched Kh-47M2 Kinzhal nuclear-capable missile, known as “the Dagger.”
In July 2021, Russia test launched its most recent hypersonic missile model. This was followed by eleven further tests in October and December, two of which involved submarine launches of what were believed to be Tsirkon missiles and a “salvo” launch of multiple missiles on December 24. Russia has made no secret of its hypersonic missile capability, an open display that showcases the weapons’ speed and in-flight maneuverability, intended to convey to the United States and its allies that Russia continues to possess an assured retaliatory destruction capability that renders use of nuclear weapons against it by any power suicidal.
In the latter part of 2021, Russia began amassing substantial numbers of troops and armament near the Ukrainian border. This was accompanied by calculated statements from Russian officials and Russian media representatives who are presumed to speak with the authority of the Kremlin. One such statement came in December from Russian television host Dmitry Kiselyov, who warned that if the United States interfered with Russian territorial or political actions, it risked being reduced to “radioactive ash.”
Further massing of Russian military forces along the Ukrainian border continued apace, and on February 24, 2022, Russia launched a large-scale military invasion of Ukraine.
Tuesday, March 1, the dormant state of the military-related facilities at Southern California Logistics Airport came to an abrupt end when the Victorville City Council, acting in its capacity as the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority Board of Directors, approved entering into another airport joint use agreement with the federal government, acting by and through the Secretary of the Air Force.
The agreement will generate approximately $291,113 in gross lease revenue over the initial five-year term. In the remainder of the 2021-22 fiscal year ending on June 30, the agreement will provide Victorville with $14,554; $58,223 in Fiscal 2022-23; $58,223 in Fiscal 2023-24; $58,223 in Fiscal 2024-25; $58,223 in Fiscal 2025-26; and $43,667 from July 1, 2026 to April 1, 2027.
According to Victorville City Manager Keith Metzler, the “revenue-generating agreement allows the U.S. Air Force in this case to actually use the air filed and conduct operations … in the facility that was once used by the California National Guard in the pilot training program they had connected to the March Air Base Reserve for the drone aircraft, the Predators and Reapers.” Metzler’s reference was to the Predator drone, also known as the MQ-1, and the Reaper drone, known as the MQ-9.
“This agreement would actually facilitate the payment associated with the use of the airfield,” Metzler said.
Ray said that initially employees for the Asir Force contractor i3, would be involved in the work at the airport.
“This firm is working directly under the Air Force, the Air Force Department of Research and Development,” Ray said. “The ultimate goal of the work that’s going to be conducted here will be for our nation to develop a set of hypersonic missiles, missiles that some other counties already have. We are behind in that technology. So, the goal is to develop that technology, to fly them off these large drones, these MQ9s. Their use of the facility here would be to launch the aircraft, get them ultimately over the ocean and to do testing of these missile systems. So, it’s very important within the agency called DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], for DARPA’s research work in these weapons systems, to be able to actually get them in the air and test them. Our airport would be used as a place by which to launch those aircraft. They will use the taxiways and the runways on which to take off and to land.”
Ray said that i3’s activities will be contained on an 8-acre portion of the airport reserved for government-leased facilities. The Air Force under its long-term lease arrangements has constructed hangar facilities and ancillary facilities there, he said. The i3 Corporation, under contract to the Air Force, will be using the Air Force’s lease hold facilities, Ray said.
“There is no risk to the local population,” Ray said, indicating the initial tests will use mock-ups that replicate the mass and weight distribution characteristics of missiles, but which will not actually be functioning or armed missiles. “There’s no explosion that’s going to happen here [with] the testing that’s going to happen here … for many months, if not years. They’re going to fly these aircraft with essentially pods on them, something that looks like a missile but is not a missile. They are going to do a lot of the flight characteristic testing on the vehicle with this object hooked to it. So that activity is going to happen. And those are inert. They won’t go ‘Boom.’ They’ll fly those here and they’ll get into the controlled air space, restricted air space that is part of Edwards Air Force Base. So, there’s a large safe area very near to us where they do that. They will only have a live ordnance at very specific, few times, and at that point they will be flying them probably out of Edwards, again in that restricted air space when no one else is around, and take it out to the ocean to do that testing. Nothing like that happens here. Here, it’s about the aircraft operating under different mission criteria.”
Mark Gutglueck

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