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Home : Home : Warfare Centers : NSWC Port Hueneme : Who We Are : White Sands Detachment
White Sands Detachment

Our Mission

The mission of the White Sands Detachment includes land-based testing of naval weapon systems missiles and gun munitions and launch operations for sub-orbital space systems and research rockets.

This mission includes live-fire test and evaluation of Navy weapons, assembly and test, and research rocket live-fire operations.


What We Do

The White Sands Detachment offers facilities and personnel supporting storage, assembly, integration, live-fire testing, and recovery of missile, gun, and rocket systems.

A vast array of test scenarios are possible at White Sands Detachment ranging from restrained rocket motor tests through all-up round engagement of ground, aerial, and theater missile defense targets. As part of a Tri-Service National Range test facility with expanding high-speed secure interconnectivity, a variety of network-centric and battle space management scenarios are possible. The White Sands' live-fire mission is critical to the acquisition and fielding of Navy weapons.

Testing at White Sands provides high quality instrumentation under very controlled scenario conditions. The recovery of missile and target systems and components provides a unique opportunity to evaluate material performance, to perform forensic analyses on failures, and to evaluate warhead fragment performance against real targets.

Weapon interfaces with launchers and fire control systems are demonstrated in a live-fire environment providing validation of critical hardware and software. This effort includes critical guidance algorithms and initialization, launch, and intercept processes.

White Sands has many unique test facilities supporting surface-to-air and surface-to-ground weapon testing, missile assembly, missile all-up round testing, and research rocket building and launch operations. Launch Complex 35W, also known as the Desert Ship, is primarily used for live-fire testing of the Standard Missile (SM) and Evolved Seasparrow Missile. The Desert Ship functionally duplicates SM fire control requirements of a surface ship.

The facility has tested all versions of SM including Tartar, Terrier, and AEGIS variants of SM-1 and SM-2, Seasparrow, Sealance, Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rocket, and 5-inch Guided Projectile. Desert Ship is continually being upgraded to meet live-fire testing requirements and is migrating to an increasing role in cooperative, integrated synthetic and live-fire testing.



The Navy has been part of the test community at White Sands since June 14, 1946, when naval activity was established to participate in research and testing of captured German V-2 rockets.

During the 1940s and 1950s, White Sands continued to launch rockets for atmospheric research. In the 1950s, the Navy’s responsibilities at White Sands expanded from rocketry into the testing of surface-to-air missile defense systems. The Navy’s Desert Ship test facility was built in 1952 to support testing and military training requirements.

In 1992, the White Sands Navy was transferred from the Naval Sea Systems Command to the Naval Air Systems Command. However, The White Sands Missile Range once again returned to the Naval Sea Systems Command in October 2001. At that time, the White Sands Desert Navy became part of the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division, as the White Sands Detachment.