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. ... Imedia.it 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.