The gathering of economic development officials in New Orleans last week to discuss the “Stennis-Michoud Aerospace Corridor” was, potentially, one of the more significant events to occur during the week for this region. If nothing else, it shows a growing realization of the capabilities of this region.
The meeting, organized by Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, was designed to discuss ways of leveraging the proximity of two important NASA facilities – Michoud Assembly Facility in east New Orleans and John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Vitter, rightly, sees it as an economic development magnet.
A letter inviting participants noted that the economic development opportunities of the Stennis-Michoud area "are usually overlooked." Well, not exactly. Some of us have seen the potential for a long time and have been pushing the idea to anyone who will listen.
On the same day, an economic development forum called Louisiana Aerospace Industry Day attracted about 150 small business owners who want to learn more about doing business with NASA. The interest is clearly there.
Speaking of Stennis, the largest A2100 spacecraft core structure ever built by Lockheed Martin was delivered last week to the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., facility. The satellite subsystem was developed and tested at Lockheed Martin's Mississippi Space and Technology Center, an advanced propulsion, thermal, and metrology facility at Stennis Space Center.
Last week several appointments of interest to the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor were made. One was NASA-related, the others EADS North America-related.
Ken Ford, director of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla., was named chairman of the NASA Advisory Council, replacing Jack Schmitt. Ford, a computer scientist, and his IHMC have worked with NASA for years. It will be nice having someone in that position who is very familiar with the Gulf Coast region and its capabilities.
In another key appointment, Trent Lott, former senator from Mississippi, was chosen by EADS North America to the company'’s board of directors. Lott, from Pascagoula, Miss., is the former senate majority leader and has worked closely with EADS. The company owns Eurocopter in Mississippi and the Airbus Engineering Center in Mobile, Ala. It still hopes to build aerial tankers in Mobile.
Also during the week, EADS North America named Randy Hutcherson vice president and program manager for EADS North America Tankers, the business unit with primary subcontractor responsibility in support of the Northrop Grumman KC-45A tanker. David D. Haines is taking Hutcherson’s post as vice president for rotorcraft programs.
On the subject of EADS and the tankers, we’re hearing more about the possibility of a split tanker buy. Many of my associates will tell you I've been saying that since the GAO decided in the summer to back Boeing’s protest. It was becoming obvious to me that the Pentagon was in a no win situation. Now Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine is apparently saying his sources tell him the Pentagon likely will authorize buying tankers from both Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team, which wants to build the tankers in Mobile, Ala.
By the way, there’s still no agreement on the Boeing strike. Some 27,000 employees in Washington, Oregon and Kansas have been on strike since Sept. 6. This strike is of high interest to people on the Gulf Coast who work for Boeing, even if they are not directly impacted by the strike.
Late in the week, the publication InsideDefense reported that the Pentagon has given the nod to Hurlburt Field, Fla.-based Air Force Special Operations Command to buy 16 of the L-3 Communications-Alenia AC-27 gunships. The plane has been dubbed "gunship light" because it's smaller than the AC-130 gunships and can get in and out of shorter fields than its big brother.
Gunships like the AC-130 and this newer, smaller plane are a favorite of Special Ops for the way they can concentrated firepower on a particular target. The planes circle a target, banking left, then pound the target with the 105mm howitzers that juts from the left side of the plane. The AC-27 will get either 30 or 40mm guns, and could also be equipped with stand-off, precision-guided munitions like the Northrop Grumman Viper Strike bomb, according to InsideDefense.
In another Hurlburt related news item, seven airmen were honored for actions in Afghanistan. Three Bronze Stars and seven Air Force Combat Action Medals were awarded to members of the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.
On the aerial weapons front, Lockheed Martin was chosen for a $122 million technology development contract for the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile system. The team includes General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems of Niceville, Fla., which will focus on the multi-purpose warhead.
In another program, Raytheon's AIM-120C7 advanced medium range air-to-air missile has entered the Navy's weapon system user program. Two Navy fighters fired an AIM-120C7 and AIM-9X, the first time the two were launched by a fleet-assigned operational Super Hornet and the first time the Navy employed both missiles in the same mission. Tests were conducted in cooperation with Eglin Air Force Base.