The most important event during this past week for the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor was the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. It's important because the next administration's views on defense and aerospace issues will be critical to the future of the region.
The new administration will face tough questions on major weapons programs, including how to move forward on the next generation of destroyers - important for Mobile, Ala., Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans - as well as what to do about replacing the fleet of Air Force tankers. That's important to Mobile. One thing seems clear already - Obama is a big advocate of technology and innovation, and that's likely to benefit the space program - important to New Orleans and South Mississippi.
The new president is expected to emphasize technological investments under national security and space exploration efforts at the expense of Defense Department big-ticket items. He’s declared support for technological innovation across the federal government, but in particular, he advocates unmanned aircraft, electronic warfare capabilities and cyber security.
Statements from Obama have indicated he’s inclined to favor awarding the tanker contract to Boeing, on grounds, at least in part, that it will save American jobs. But it’s also possible that when he takes office, he’ll have an opportunity to see the flip side - that awarding the contract to the Northrop Grumman/EADS North America team and assembling the planes in Mobile will lead to more foreign investment in the United States. The jury is clearly out on this one.
Obama has called for renewing the nation’s commitment to NASA, and he’s demanded a budget with sufficient resources for success in its critical missions - space exploration and human spaceflight, science and aeronautics research. One thing that could occur is an extension of the space shuttle program. Obama said NASA should take no further action that would make it more difficult or expensive to fly the shuttle beyond 2010.
More shuttle flights would help keep hundreds of people working at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. But the price tag is $2 billion, and it might also push back the Constellation Program. That program is moving forward, at least for the time being. The first major flight hardware of the Ares I-X rocket arrived in Florida last week, and the test flight of the agency’s next generation launch system is set for July 2009.
Two Blue Angels team members, one a pilot, who were removed from duty for an “inappropriate relationship” were found guilty late in the week. The Navy has not identified the man and woman, but one was in the Navy, the other in the Marines. The flight demonstration team based in Pensacola, Fla., has been doing shows with one less plane than normal.
Speaking of air shows, Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., will be hosting its first air show in five years this coming April when it presents “Thunder on the Bay.” It will include aerial acrobatics and static aircraft displays, though details are still being worked out.
In another base-related matter from the past week, maintainers from Hurlburt Field, Fla., near Fort Walton Beach, were named winners of the Department of Defense Phoenix Award, the highest field-level maintenance award within DoD.
On Saturday, the Navy's first littoral combat ship, USS Freedom, was commissioned in Milwaukee, Wis. So what’s that got to do with aerospace? A Northrop Grumman Fire Scout helicopter drone is on the Freedom and will remain onboard as it transits from Milwaukee to Norfolk, Va. Finishing work on Fire Scouts are done in Moss Point, Miss.
Speaking of unmanned aerial vehicles, Northrop during the week was awarded a $97 million Army contract to procure, modify and deliver 12 Hunter MQ-5B UAVs and supporting equipment. Just another affirmation of the growing importance of unmanned aerial systems.