The US Navy’s increased emphasis on stealth – recently evidenced by the low observable features of the Northrop Grumman X-47 UCAS demonstrator – also appears to be manifesting itself in new ground test facilities.
This recently snapped view of the rarely photographed Etcheron Valley Junction Ranch Range in the far northeast corner of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center clearly shows a recent addition – a newly completed radar cross section test site. Its presence seems to underline a growing focus on comprehensive stealth testing. According to Global Security, the Junction Ranch Range is the Navy's leading outdoor RDT&E antenna characterization, GPS antenna test/jamming Range, HPM/Transient Electromagnetic, and RCS/radar signature test facility.
The new RCS site is located centrally in the valley between older test facilities.
The Junction Ranch RCS Facility is located in a remote valley sandwiched between the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west, and Death Valley to the east, and lies on the west side of the Argus Mountain range. The high iron content of the surrounding mountains, some of which is indicated in the coloring of the Google satellite images (below), also provides a high level of RF shielding for incoming and outgoing signals, and allows radiation at all frequencies at very high power levels.
After seeing the photo I searched for the site on Google Maps and was surprised to see no sign of the RCS target area from higher altitudes. I was even more surprised to see a convenient puff of cumulus cloud appear more or less directly over the target when I zoomed in. Interestingly, the cloud remains in place on the later Google Earth version, no matter what the resolution. To read more about Junction Ranch and other test ranges I suggest Sean O’Connor’s excellent IMINT and Analysis website.
Viewed from a far greater height over the range, no obvious sign of the RCS (marked by the yellow cross) is visible at all. Note the absence of any cloud cover in the area and the colorful local geology.(Google)