Sunday, December 28, 2008

Week in review (12/21 to 12/27)

It wasn’t a very good Christmas present for Northwest Florida.

According to the Air Force News Service, Northrop Grumman will move its Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) hub from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to the Warner Robins area in Georgia. It’s the result of an agreement between the Air Force and Northrop Grumman signed Dec. 11.

LAIRCM is a laser-based system designed to counter the threat that slow-moving cargo aircraft and rotary-wing aircraft face from shoulder-fired missiles and missiles launched from vehicles. The system detects heat-seeking missiles and puts out a signal to confuse its path and direct it away from the aircraft.

This is a pretty big deal for Warner Robins. Phil Robinson, Northrop Grumman's system manager for LAIRCM, told AFNS that Robins AFB will work not only on Air Force platforms equipped with LAIRCM, but planes throughout the U.S. armed forces.

Much of the work to get the operation to George was apparently done quietly.

"The agreement culminates a lot of hard work that has been done behind the scenes by our folks who generate business for us, who generate workload for us, (and) who monitor our business operations," said Brig. Gen. Mark Atkinson, the 402nd Maintenance Wing Commander at Robins AFB. As the general put it, "this gets our foot in the door."

The workload now is not that great, but it's expected to go up over time. Northrop Grumman currently does most of the maintenance work on the system, Atkinson said. And one reason behind the agreement is the Air Force thinks the system too important to rely solely on private industry for maintenance, so Robins wants to handle it. If you want to read the full story, click here.

It’s really discouraging this high-tech capability isn't going to remain in this region, but that's what happens as folks work behind the scenes to bring more capability to their own base. It's something folks around Eglin Air Force Base need to consider while debating whether the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training center will bring too much noise. What you don't want or what you're not watching carefully, someone else wants and might actively be pursuing.

One of the areas of aerospace that hold great promise for the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor is NASA's push to get private sector companies more involved in picking up the NASA slack, so to speak. The agency will be spending a lot of money in the future getting companies to perform the tasks the agency can't or won't.

A case in point: NASA awarded $3.5 billion in cargo contracts to two companies in hopes of encouraging development of a private-sector commercial space industry capable of providing the rockets that can carry passengers to the International Space Station and beyond. Space Exploration Technologies of California and Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia will provide 20 flights to the space station.

Now if you read this column or our news briefs regularly, you know that Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia is the company that recently decided to have the AJ26 rocket engines tested at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The testing will begin in 2009, and while it may not seem like a big deal, it is in that a company that is picking up the NASA slack will be doing some work in this region. Orbital is the same company that awarded a $49 million contract to Alliant Techsystems (ATK) to provide at least nine flight sets of Orion solid rocket motors. That work will be done at the ATK operation in Salt Lake City, Utah, but could this mean more testing at Stennis? Perhaps. We’ll have to see.

Speaking of space, the Lockheed Martin-led team developing the Air Force’s Space-Based Infrared System delivered the remaining major spacecraft bus subsystem for the second geosynchronous orbit spacecraft. The GEO-2 spacecraft core structure and propulsion subsystem was recently completed and the high-performance communications subsystem for the spacecraft was delivered in early December. The propulsion subsystem, essential for maneuvering the satellite during transfer orbit to its final location as well as conducting on-orbit repositioning, was developed at Lockheed Martin’s Mississippi Space & Technology Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Northrop Grumman had a pretty good past week. Its RQ-4 Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration team was named Test Team of the Quarter for the second quarter of 2008 by the Navy's Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20. The team won the award for achievements in the first half of the year. The team is, among other things, developing tactics and guidelines for Navy unmanned patrol systems. As you know, portions of the Global Hawks are built in Moss Point, Miss.

Northrop Grumman also won two Worker Safety Excellence Awards from the Aerospace Industries Association. The company’s Integrated Systems sector, which oversees Mississippi's Moss Point Unmanned Systems Center, was recognized for having the lowest injury and illness rate in the aircraft manufacturing category. The AIA cited Northrop Grumman's low workplace injury and illness rates as well as its positive safety program elements.

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