Saturday, March 28, 2009

Week in review (3/22 to 3/28)

One of the missions of this site is to show you the Gulf Coast ties to aerospace activities that, on the surface, don’t seem to have any connection here. That’s why our news briefs sometimes have a “Gulf Coast note.”

One of those stories requiring a note was Lockheed Martin’s announcement that it’s partnering with the University of Florida to develop and launch five miniature satellites. We’re talking small here – a cube-shaped satellite measuring less than four inches a side that weighs just 2.2 pounds.

Lockheed will fund $450,000 worth of UF research and development projects this year. The idea is to look into the viability of miniaturized, space-hardened GPS electronics and state-of-the-art intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. These satellites, called CubeSats, operate on a power output similar to a cell phone.

Because UF has several engineering-related research programs near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., I was curious if the engineers in Shalimar will be involved. The director of the University of Florida Research and Engineering Education Facility told me no, that the work would primarily be the Gainesville campus. But he said that some folks from another organization along the Gulf Coast, the Pensacola-based Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, are in fact involved in ASTREC, which was mentioned in the Lockheed Martin announcement.

Lockheed Martin said the CubeSats work will complement the work of the Advanced Space Technologies Research & Engineering Center - ASTREC. Its mission is to provide industry-driven, leading-edge research to produce integrated, small satellites that would improve time in orbit, would cost less and maximize flexibility in design. And come to find out, some of the scientists at IHMC are involved in ASTREC’s work.

- There were a couple of other space-related items during the week that are of interest to the Gulf Coast. Roy Anderson Corp. of Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $45 million NASA contract to work on portions of the A-3 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The stand will be used to test the J-2X engines for the Constellation Program. The contract work includes installation of the general mechanical and electrical support for the A-3 test stand.

- The Constellation Program keeps moving ahead. A full-scale mockup of NASA's Orion crew module is being tested in water under simulated and real landing weather conditions. A Navy-built, 18,000-pound Orion mockup is being tested in a pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Ocean testing will begin April 6 off the coast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As regular readers know, Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center are both involved in the Constellation Program.

There were two groundbreakings in less than a week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Last weekend we talked about the groundbreaking for the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center, which will train pilots to fly the advanced F-35. Then during the week there was a groundbreaking – inside this time – for the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group.

This 600,000-square-foot campus near Duke Field will include a gymnasium, dining facility and two group headquarters on 500 acres. The $300 million project, when finished, will bring 2,000 personnel to the base.

For those who pay attention to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor, the significance of having the 7th Special Forces Group is not lost. This region is a hot spot for special operations. At Hurlburt Field near Eglin, you have the home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. Go further west and Stennis Space Center, Miss., is home to the group that trains with riverine craft used to bring Navy SEALS and other special operators to hot spots.

- The Florida Senate during the week moved to protect the Florida’s 20 military bases and $55 billion economic impact. Legislation introduced by Sens. Don Gaetz and Durell Peaden makes base closure and mission realignment a state issue. The bill establishes the Florida Council on Military Base and Mission Support and work groups to focus on intrastate activities, liaison with the Defense Department, competitive strategies, and public awareness. Northwest Florida is home to a half-dozen military bases.

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense during the week came up with his own military spending plan since the Pentagon doesn’t yet have one. A key element of Rep. John Murtha’s plan: A new refueling tanker is the top Air Force priority, and he wants to split the buy between Boeing and Northrop Grumman. If Northrop Grumman and partner EADS win some of the tanker competition, planes will be assembled in Mobile, Ala.

One report during the week said Democratic lawmakers are determined to push a bill splitting a $35 billion contract between Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team. Murtha and other defense appropriators think it will get the program moving again. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees the move as an expensive compromise, but defense analyst Loren Thompson says the split contract could save money by more quickly retiring the existing fleet of KC-135 tankers.

Murtha’s spending budget mentioned above also put a priority on getting a second engine option for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if the Air Force doesn’t want one. The F-35 Lightning II, built by Lockheed Martin, will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as foreign militaries. The plane is a joint project of the United States and foreign partners. During the week, a $320 million contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin for the F-35. It’s a modification to a previous advance acquisition contract that provides for long lead materials associated with the low rate initial production Lot III procurement.

- Senate appropriators during the week offered support for the Air National Guard in its effort to gain new tactical aircraft. Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye told the director of the Air National Guard during the week that appropriators would do their best to make sure replacement fighters are in the budget.

The Guard uses F-16s and F-15s. The Government Accountability Office reported in January that if the planes aren’t replaced by 2020, 11 of 18 domestic air sovereignty alert sites could be without aircraft.

- The Army’s fleet of UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters passed the 10,000 flight-hour milestone. Fifty-eight UH-72As have been delivered by EADS North America to the Army and Army National Guard for missions including homeland security, medical evacuation, logistics and VIP flights. The helicopters are built in Columbus, Miss. EADS also has an Airbus engineering center and EADS CASA operation in Mobile, Ala.

- Another aircraft had a bit of trouble during the week. The Naval Air Systems Command temporarily grounded 84 Navy and Air Force V-22 Ospreys after an inspection of a V-22s in Iraq revealed loose bolts damaging components in the rotor assembly. The aircraft inspected included 11 CV-22s based at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

There were several contracts awarded this week with a Gulf Coast connection. In addition to the Lockheed Martin contract for advance procurement and the A-3 test stand contracts mentioned earlier, there were three others to note:

EDO Corp., Panama City, Fla., was awarded a $49.5 million contract to provide services and materials for repair, modification, and overhaul of the Organic Airborne Mine Countermeasures System. The work will be done in Panama City, and the contracting activity was the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City.

Bates Engineers/Contractors Inc., Bainbridge, Ga., was awarded a $20 million contract to design and build a Joint Communications Support Element Squadron Facility at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. The Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Mobile, Ala., was the contracting activity.

Tybrin Corp., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a contract for $16.8 million to provide advisory and assistance services to support Aerospace Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Advisory and Assistance Services program.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Week in review (3/15 to 3/21)

Work on the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is now officially under way. A groundbreaking was held at the base Friday, and attracted about 175 people, according to media reports.

The construction involves nine separate projects, including an academic center, dormitories, dining facilities and hangars. Total construction costs will be about $250 million.

The F-35 Lightning II, built by Lockheed Martin, will be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines as well as foreign militaries. The plane is the result of international collaboration involving the United States and allied nations. Eglin in 2005 was chosen as the primary training facility for pilots and maintenance personnel from all branches - a real economic development coup for the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

The center has not been without controversy. The city of Valparaiso, just outside the gate, is still concerned about noise from the fighter and has said it plans to sue. The Air Force has said the F-35 is twice as loud as an F-15. Another just-released study by the National Air and Space Laboratory in the Netherlands states that the noise the JSF makes is just a little more then the F-16. It all depends on what is being measured - takeoff, landing, full power.

Meanwhile, a Marine pilot took the controls of an F-35 for the first time during the week. The major flew an F-35A for an hour and 20 minutes at the Lockheed Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The version the major flew was the type the Air Force will be using. The Marines will use a short-takeoff/vertical landing version of the F-35, designated the F-35B.

In another F-35 story during the week, the United Kingdom announced it will buy three F-35B operational test aircraft. That marks the U.K.’s commitment to the Operational Test and Evaluation phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program. The F-35B will be flown from the two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. Still to come is a decision in the Netherlands on whether to buy two and participate in the Operational Test and Evaluation phase.

The Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team is back home at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The team, which performs in F-18s, had been at the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron’s winter training grounds at El Centro, Calif.

The Constellation Program keeps moving ahead. All the hardware required for the flight this summer of the Ares I-X is now at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Four Alliant Techsystems' Ares I-X motor segments arrived during the week. The segments were originally produced for the space shuttle and later transferred to the Ares I-X mission.

During the week, Alliant Techsystems awarded United Space Alliance a $257 million contract to perform subcontractor support to ATK for the NASA’s Ares I and Ares 1-X programs through the design, development, test and engineering phase. It includes engineering, deceleration system development and technical operations support for Stage I activities. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are involved in the Constellation Program.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi held a ribbon-cutting ceremony during the week for the new $15 million parking structure. It’s a three-story, 800-vehicle structure. The project had been on the drawing board for 10 years.

Over in Mobile, Ala., the Airport Authority in Alabama approved $26.1 million in spending at the city’s two airports. Projects include taxiway work and terminal work at the Mobile Regional Airport, and road and drainage work at Brookley Field Industrial Complex.

Only one contract with a Gulf Coast connection was awarded during the week. It was a fixed price contract for Lockheed Martin Corp., Maritime Systems and Sensors, Integrated Defense Technologies, Baltimore, Md., in the amount of $49.9 million for FY08 MK 41 Vertical Launching System production and delivery requirements. Fourteen percent of the work will be performed in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Finally, we should also note that earlier this month the Enterprise for Innovative Geospatial Solutions, the Mississippi program that corridinates that state's geospatial technology industry cluster, announced it added six new companies to EIGS. Three of them, Innovative Imaging and Research, Skylla Engineering and Themis Vision System, are all based at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The other three are in Hattiesburg, Jackson and Starkville. EIGS is run by the University of Mississippi.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Week in review (3/8 to 3/14)

A report out of Washington during the week about the aerial tanker really caught the attention of Congressional leaders and the Gulf Coast media. CQPolitics reported that the White House suggested one way to cut the budget would be to delay the tanker program for five years. It was part of the negotiations between the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department.

The operative word is "negotiations." A common tactic during negotiations is to come in suggesting something in the extreme, then you start working your way down. The report sparked an immediate outcry from politicians. It was one of the few times that supporters of Boeing and supporters of the Northrop Grumman/EADS NA team were on the same side. The next day a report in the Mobile Press-Register said a White House spokesman denied the administration wants to delay the tanker. It was, it seems, just put there as an option.

By the end of the week, The Hill reported that Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, plans to use the upcoming war emergency supplemental bill to jumpstart the aerial tanker program. Murtha, D-Pa., advocates splitting the purchase between Boeing, which would build them in Washington State, and the Northrop Grumman/EADS NA team, which would assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

Murtha said after visits to both Mobile and Washington State that he supports splitting the buy between Boeing and Northrop. It may well be the only viable option given the politically charged nature of the entire program. If jobs are important to this administration, being able to say it saved jobs in Washington State and Kansas while at the same time creating new ones in Alabama and the broader Gulf Coast region would be a major plus for the new administration. It would also show Europe that the United States is abandoning any tendency toward protectionism.

- While on a subject that involves EADS North America, that company's Columbus, Miss., plant is busy churning out UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters. Three were delivered to the District of Columbia National Guard. The helicopters are the first of 16 Lakotas to be operated in the region. The D.C. National Guard will get eight, as will the Military District of Washington. All 16 will be based at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The UH-72A is built at the American Eurocopter plant in Columbus, Miss. EADS North America also has an EADS CASA North America maintenance center and Airbus Engineering Center in Mobile, Ala.

A Government Accountability Office report released during the week said costs are likely to grow for two of the Pentagon's biggest weapons programs: the Future Combat Systems and the Joint Strike Fighter.

The GAO said the JSF, or F-35 program, could ultimately cost $1 trillion to build and maintain some 2,500 planes. That's some $300 billion for the planes and about $760 billion to maintain them. But the GAO points out that they'll cost even more if the Pentagon speeds up the program while testing continues.

The F-35 is designed to replace warplanes now flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, and well as aircraft of foreign militaries. By 2015, a year after all flight tests are expected to be finished, the military will have purchased 684 planes. The accelerated buying schedule will have added $33 billion in costs by that time, according to GAO. (Story)

While all this was going on, Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-35, was awarded during the week an advance acquisition contract valued at an estimated $265 million for long lead materials and effort associated with the JSF low initial production Lot IV procurement.

The contract involves 12 Air Force conventional take off and landing aircraft, 14 Marine Corps short take-off and vertical landing aircraft, one Navy carrier variant and one conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the Netherlands.

Those F-35s are of high interest to the folks in Northwest Florida. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is scheduled to be the home of the JSF training center, which will have Air Force, Navy and Marine instructors. There has been some controversy over the noise of the aircraft.

Residents packed Monday's Valparaiso city commission meeting to discuss the city's plan to sue the Air Force over the F-35s. Signatures of close to 500 residents and more than 1,000 from those outside the city who oppose the suit were presented to the commission. The commission took no action. The city is suing because of concerns about the noise.

People in Bay County, Fla., to the east of Eglin, may well be thinking they would like the problems brought by the F-35s. The 325th Fighter Wing commander confirmed in an e-mail during the week that the Air Force plans to draw down two F-15 Eagle squadrons at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., by the end of 2010.

Tyndall also has an F-22 Raptor squadron, and the president of the Bay Defense Alliance says he's confident the military "will fill that tarmac" with some other aircraft and some additional missions when the F-15s are gone.

- On the subject of new aircraft, that was one of the subjects at the Precision Strike Association's annual review conference in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., during the week. Officials said the Special Operations Command wants to begin developing a new gunship to replace the AC-130H/U in the fiscal 2010 budget. Fort Walton Beach is right next to Hurlburt Field, Fla., home of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

Whether that will happen is unclear, given the budget. But replacement candidates include the L-3 Communications/Alenia North America C-27J and the C-130J of Lockheed Martin.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration team was recognized with the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Commander's Award in a ceremony last week at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The award is the result of the team's achievements during 2008, which include providing support during Hurricane Ike and the California wildfires. Anything involving the Global Hawk is of interest to the folks in Moss Point, Miss. That's the home of the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, which builds the Global Hawk central fuselage.

Another user of Global Hawk, the Air Force, opted during the week to modify a contract with Northrop Grumman for $59.6 million to provide engineering, manufacturing and development infrastructure activities in support of the Global Hawk program.

Meanwhile, another UAV is getting more muscle. The MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft system, built by General Atomics, will be getting the Joint Direct Attack Munition. The UAV could be certified in July to carry the 500-pound GBU-38 JDAM.

The Reaper can carry the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb and the AGM-114 Hellfire missile. The JDAM adds a weapon with global positioning system guidance along with adverse weather capability. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.’s 678th Armament Systems Squadron and 679th Armament Systems Squadron participated in the tests conducted in California.

NASA completed a successful test firing of the igniter that will be used to start the Ares I rocket first stage motor. The March 10 test paves the way for the initial ground test of the Ares I first stage later this year.

Ares I is the first launch vehicle in NASA's Constellation Program, which will return astronauts to the moon and beyond. The test, conducted at ATK Launch Systems test facilities near Promontory, Utah, generated a flame almost 200 feet long. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are involved in Constellation.

Besides the F-35 contract and the Global Hawk contract mentioned above, three other contracts awarded during the week have a Gulf Coast connection.

The Air Force extended a contract with Raytheon for $11.4 million to extend the period of performance for contractor logistics support for calendar year 2009. 695 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity ... Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office was awarded an $11 million modification to a previously awarded contract for Increment II of the CV-22 aircraft Block 20 upgrade program. Nine percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. ... was awarded an $8.4 million contract for education/training products and support services managed by the Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center, Pensacola, Fla. Five percent of the work will be done in Pensacola.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Week in review (3/1 to 3/7)

It's hard to escape a week without something interesting to report in the field of unmanned aerial systems. This time, it's Australia's decision during the week to pull out of the project with the U.S. Navy - the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project.

Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said buying the Global Hawks would have put too much pressure on the Royal Australian Air Force. But publications in Australia also report that economic pressures played a role.

Australia had wanted a maritime version of the Global Hawks to help in surveillance of the vast island and the sea approaches. But the Global Hawks are not expected to be ready until 2015, about the time the RAAF's AP-3C Orion surveillance aircraft are to replaced by the new Boeing P-8A Poseidon. That would have imposed unnecessary strain on RAAF personnel, Fitzgibbon said.

The decision is not sitting well with some Australians. The opposition has slammed the decision, saying it denies Australia a useful and cost-effective capability. Reports indicate that if Australia wants to re-enter the BAMS Global Hawk program, in which it has already invested $15 million, the costs will go higher.

Northrop Grumman, meanwhile, plans to continue talking to Australia.

The Australian has a detailed story about the issue, which among other things talks about another UAV of interest to the Gulf Coast region, the Fire Scout. It says engineers at Northrop Grumman in conjunction with Israel's Rafael, are doing preliminary work on the MQ-8B Fire Scout to provide it with the capability of airlifting wounded troops from battle zones. (Story)

In another UAV-related story during the week, the Air Force is modifying a contract with Northrop Grumman, value not to exceed $107.6 million, to provide for long lead items associated with Lot 8 Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicles. Global Hawks and Fire Scouts are both built in part at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

People in Okaloosa County who support making Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the home of the Joint Strike Fighter Training Center are beginning to let their voices be heard. They are concerned that too much attention is being paid to public officials from the City of Valparaiso, which is suing the Air Force.

A petition from supporters will be provided to leaders of the City of Valparaiso during a meeting Monday evening.

Meanwhile, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County during the week launched a campaign in support of the F-35 program. EDC asked residents to take an online poll on U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller's Web site.

The City of Valparaiso, right outside Eglin, voted last month to sue the Air Force over plans to bring the F-35 training center to Eglin. At issue is the noise level the jets will bring to the area. City officials claim the noise – it's about twice as loud as an F-15 – will drive down property values.

In another F-35 related story during the week, Turkish Aerospace Industries Inc. delivered its first composite parts for the F-35. The structural composite panels are used to form the outer surface of the fighter. Northrop Grumman will integrate the parts into the center fuselages of the first two production F-35s.

Northrop Grumman is a founding member of the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 Lightning II team, and is responsible for the design and production of center fuselages for all three variants of F-35 aircraft. The F-35 has multiple international suppliers.

NASA successfully completed the second drop test of a drogue parachute for the Ares I rocket. The test was late last month at the Army’s proving ground in Yuma, Ariz. Ares I, part of the Constellation Program, will send explorers to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond in coming decades.

The parachute is designed to slow the descent of the spent first-stage motor that will be jettisoned by the Ares I during its climb to space. The first-stage solid rocket motor powers Ares I for the first two minutes of launch. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi are both involved in the Constellation Program.

Speaking of Stennis Space Center, NASA has appointed Richard Gilbrech associate director of the center. Gilbrech is the former director of Stennis who served there until he was appointed associate administrator for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in 2007. Last November he announced his retirement from that headquarters post, but will be back at Stennis in early May.

In Mobile, Ala., Teledyne Continental Motors laid off about 20 workers late last month, officials said. The airplane piston engine maker has been hit by the economic downturn. It has 400 workers at Brookley Industrial Complex location. The company is a subsidiary of Teledyne Technologies of Thousand Oaks, Calif.