Saturday, October 4, 2008

Week in review (9/28 to 10/4)

It may not have been the most important aerospace news from the Gulf Coast region, but it was one that was both surprising and expected. I'm talking about the announcement that Bob Cabana is leaving as director of Mississippi's John C. Stennis Space Center later this month to become director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Cabana replaces William Parsons, himself a former Stennis director, who is leaving NASA for the private sector. Stennis Deputy Director Gene Goldman will become acting director at Stennis, which tests propulsion systems for the federal agency.

I said earlier it was both surprising and expected. The surprise is that Cabanas seemed to have just gotten there. He didn't, of course, but that's just the way it seems. And why was it expected? Changes like this are common for the federal agency. NASA regularly rotates its center directors - much as the military does with commanders.

In another NASA item, the NASA Authorization Act last week cleared Congress and provides funding for space programs and aeronautics research and development. Provisions include $20.2 billion for the agency, with an additional $1 billion dedicated to accelerated development of the Orion spacecraft and Ares 1 launch vehicle. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center are key players in those programs.

Work is now under way at Naval Air Station Pensacola for the $45 million Air Force Navigator Training Hangar and Combat Systems Officer Instruction Facility. It's slated to be finished next year, and will be used to train about 400 Air Force and Navy students each year as navigators, weapons systems officers and electronic warfare officers. These joint training operations are extremely important to the military as a cost-cutting measure, and the Gulf Coast region has its share.

Speaking of joint training, the issue over the Joint Strike Fighter training center and the noise the F-35s will bring continues to be debated. Two developments this past week: A major general says the F-35s will be no louder than an F-22 or F-18, and the city of Valparaiso decided to hold off serving the Air Force with a suit that was filed Sept. 22. The reason is the Air Force has delivered some of the documents the city has been pursuing, and hope remains high the issue can be resolved. Valparaiso wants all Air Force records relating to BRAC, the Joint Land Use Study and the draft Environmental Impact Statement.

On the aerial tanker front, the latest in that issue last week was Northrop Grumman CEO Ron Sugar telling Reuters his company would not dismiss the possibility of the government buying tankers from both the Northrop/EADS team and Boeing. I've been telling anyone who will listen to me that it was moving in that direction. We'll see. Just to recap, Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team were competing for the tanker project. Northrop won, Boeing protested, the GAO agreed, and the Pentagon decided to let the next administration decide the matter. Boeing wants to build them in Washington State, Northrop/EADS want to build them in Mobile, Ala. In a related matter, Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus Americas, said the company is committed to Mobile. The Mobile Engineering Center at Brookley Field Industrial Complex passed the 100-employee mark.

Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties are among the organizations that will receive Florida defense grants designed to improve the state’s position as a host for military installations and activities. The state awarded $2.25 million in two categories of defense grants: reinvestment and infrastructure. The Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, Team Santa Rosa Economic Development Council and Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce will receive grants from both categories.

As you know, we track defense contracts daily, and post on our Gulf Coast news digest three types of aerospace-related contracts: Those that are awarded to a Gulf Coast company, those where the work will be performed in this region and those where the contracting activity is in this region. This week the contracts totaled $260.3 million.

The largest contract was $90.4 million for Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., for intermediate and depot level maintenance and related support for T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines. Some of that work will be done at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. There were three other contracts related to maintenance and support services. DTS Aviation Services of Texas won a $14 million contract for work at Eglin Air Force Base’s Air Armament Center that involves munitions and command and control testing work, and DynCorp International of Texas won a $9.6 million contract modification for aircraft maintenance and life cycle support for 12 Navy UC-35 aircraft. Some of that work will be done at Naval Air Station New Orleans. Del-Jen, Inc., Gardena, Calif., was awarded $20.3 million by the Navy to exercise the first option period under a previously awarded contract base operations support at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Saufley Field, Corry Station, and Bronson Field.

Two universities were awarded contracts with ties to this region. The University of Florida won a $30 million contract to promote/enhance graduate level engineering education for Eglin Air Force Base. The fields: theoretical and/or applied research in aerodynamic and computational fluid dynamics, computer science/software engineering, electro-magnetic/optics, engineering mechanics, guidance and control technology, systems engineering, and signal processing. Eglin was also the contracting activity for another contract, $9.9 million for New Mexico State University to establish Unmanned Aerial System Program for UAS research, development, test, and evaluation, including USS operations in the National Airspace System.

In another unmanned systems item, a $23.2 million was awarded as the week came to a close to Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems of San Diego, Calif., which runs the Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss. That contract modification is for five Global Hawks, and involves long lead procurement. Another product of the unmanned systems center, the Fire Scout helicopter drone, has now moved into its second year of low-rate initial production with a $32.9 million contract award from the Naval Air Systems Command. It's the second of three planned LRIP buys. We’ve been telling you to keep an eye on this field, and we remain convinced the Gulf Coast region’s work in UAVs will grow. One to watch: AeroVironment in Navarre, Fla.

And, speaking of futuristic systems, Boeing-SVS of Albuquerque, N.M., was awarded a $30 million contract to provide Advanced Tactical Laser Extended User Evaluation, an effort to operate and evaluate a high-energy laser into an Air Force C-130 aircraft. Eglin Air Force Base is the contracting activity. Watch this field.

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