Saturday, May 2, 2009

Week in review (4/26 to 5/2)

The week didn’t end on a high note for some Gulf Coast people who work at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. NASA let go 160 people in New Orleans and Utah, the first of 900 jobs that will be eliminated over the coming months at NASA centers.

NASA is preparing to retire its space shuttle fleet in 2010. The first notices went out Friday, primarily to contractors producing the space shuttle fuel tanks outside New Orleans and the shuttle solid rocket boosters in Utah.

But earlier in the week, House and Senate leaders authorized $2.5 billion to keep the space shuttle flying through 2011, if necessary to complete planned missions to the international space station. Funding to maintain shuttle operations past December 2010 is part of the nonbinding $3.4 trillion budget blueprint passed by the House and Senate. In addition to Michoud, Stennis Space Center, Miss., is also involved in the shuttle program.

- NASA during the week chose Jacobs Technology to provide manufacturing support and facilities operations at the Michoud Assembly Facility. Jacobs will manage the Michoud facility and provide support to its multiple NASA projects and other tenants.

Aerial tanker
Language to force the Pentagon to buy aerial refueling tankers from both Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team won’t be included in this year's supplemental war spending bill. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during the week that he's abandoning his push to add the language, but said he plans to make another push for the dual buy later this year. Northrop and EADS plan to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., if they win the contract.

Earlier in the week several media outlets reported that there's plenty of opposition to a split buy, as well as some fence-sitting. The Mobile Press-Register reported that Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., blasted the split buy, and Aviation Week reported that several key senators were not persuaded about the need for a split.

- At least two news organizations, Aerospace Daily & Defense Report and Reuters, reported during the week about France’s need to buy aerial refueling tankers. France would like the United States to make up its mind on a tanker aircraft so they can plan modernization of their own aerial refueling fleet with 14-15 new aircraft.

France wants its tankers to operate seamlessly with the U.S. tanker fleet, according to the French defense attache in Washington D.C. Maj. Gen. Gratien Maire said France would issue a request for information from potential suppliers, though no timetable has been set. Potential suppliers are Airbus and Boeing. How that might impact any decision in Washington about the Air Force tankers is unclear. (Story)

- The Airbus A330 tanker transport marked a new development milestone when it was refueled by a French Air Force C-135. In two sorties, the C-135 made 20 contacts with a Royal Australian Air Force A330. The A330 is the platform that Northrop Grumman plans to use for the KC-45, which is competing against the Boeing KC-767 to provide tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Unmanned systems
During her final days in office, former U.S. Air Force acquisition chief Sue Payton wrote a letter to Northrop Grumman saying she was increasingly concerned about the management of the Global Hawk unmanned aerial system program, according to Aviation Week.

Payton’s April 7 letter outlines a series of problems that had contributed to her concerns, including design, workmanship and failure to follow production processes. All that, she said, contributed to delays in the Global Hawk development program.

In response, Northrop Grumman “does not agree with Ms. Payton’s evaluation of the program,” according to Cynthia Curiel, vice president of communications for the company’s Aerospace Systems sector. (Story)

- It was reported during the week that Northrop Grumman acquired Swift Engineering of San Clemente, Calif., a move that gave Northrop the KillerBee line of unmanned aircraft. But no sooner did that sink in then Raytheon by the end of the week announced it purchased the rights to the technology and name of the KillerBee from Northrop Grumman. The blended wing-body UAV is being offered in sizes with wingspans ranging from 6.5 feet to 33.2 feet. Both companies have operations in the Gulf Coast region, notably the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., which makes portions of the Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs.

- Raytheon Co. during the week also received a $16.5 million Navy contract to migrate the current Tactical Control System to a Linux-based operating system and add upgrades to the system software. The Navy wants to develop a common UAV ground system for multiple platforms, allowing operators to run simultaneously on one system multiple UAVs and payloads. The contract provides for operational evaluation on the Fire Scout.

- Northrop Grumman received approval from the Defense Department for its Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system. The system now moves toward low-rate initial production. COBRA is designed to detect and localize minefields patterns and other obstacles in the littoral zone and will be carried aboard MQ-8B Fire Scouts. Two team members of COBRA also have operations in the Gulf Coast: Arete Associates of Niceville, Fla., and QinetiQ North America, which operates PSI of Long Beach, Miss.

- We didn’t report it in our daily news updates, but it’s interesting nonetheless because it involves unmanned aerial systems, which are of high interest to the Gulf Coast region. But Lockheed Martin will build the prototype of a high-flying radar-equipped airship for DARPA and the Air Force under a contract valued at almost $400 million. Northrop Grumman was the losing bidder.

The unmanned airship will have Raytheon-developed X- and UHF-band active electronically scanned arrays built into its structure. Designed to operate autonomously, the prototype will be a one-third-scale demonstrator for an operational solar-powered stratospheric surveillance airship that would be able to stay on station at altitude of 70,000 feet for up to 10 years. The airship will feature low areal-density flexible composite hull materials and a high energy-density regenerative electric power system. (Story)

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
Northrop Grumman delivered to Lockheed Martin the center fuselage for the first production F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, designated AF-6. It’s a conventional takeoff and landing variant for the Air Force. Northrop, a partner of Lockheed Martin on the F-35 program, designs and produces the center fuselages for all three F-35 variants – conventional, short-takeoff and carrier-compatible. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will become the home of the JSF training center.

Meanwhile, the first structural test airframe for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter arrived in the United Kingdom to undergo tests in the Structural and Dynamic Test facility at BAE Systems’ site in Brough, East Yorkshire, England. This craft, designated AG-1, is the conventional takeoff and landing variant. BAE Systems, like Northrop, is a principal subcontractor to Lockheed Martin on the F-35.

Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base’s Air Armament Center during the week got a new commander. Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis has taken over from Maj. Gen. David Eidsaune. Davis most recently was executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Program Office, in charge of developing and acquiring the F-35. That might come in handy, since the F-35 training school will be based at Eglin.

- Raytheon last month launched its first GBU-53/B Small Diameter Bomb II, a glide bomb, from an F-15E during testing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The weapon deployed its wings and performed a series of preprogrammed maneuvers and flew to a pre-designated position. The weapon is designed to take out moving targets in adverse weather conditions.

- In Biloxi, Miss., representatives from six airlines and about 150 South Mississippi executives expressed optimism during the week about South Mississippi during the Airline and Tourism Development Summit at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino. Bruce Frallic, executive director of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport, said airlines are making money serving Gulfport and are considering adding flights.

1Q reports
General Dynamics announced during the week that first-quarter earnings rose 3 percent as sales of warships and other military equipment made up for lower profits from business jets. The Falls Church, Va.-based defense contractor reported first-quarter net income of $590 million, up from profit of $572 million in the same quarter last year. The company has several operations in the Gulf Coast region.

During the week there was only one contract with a Gulf Coast connection. The Air Force awarded related contracts to multiple contractors, including Tybrin Corp., of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to provide engineering and related services in the development and sustainment of software engineering support for the 309th Software Maintenance Group.

But there were a couple of other contracts of interest, despite the lack of a direct tie. Northrop Grumman was awarded a $22.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System, which uses a Global Hawk platform. This modification provides for incorporation of wing static and load testing for the BAMS.

In addition, the Air Force awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman for a maximum of $49.7 million for the Small Unmanned Aerial System Research and Evaluation program. It will focus on translating promising research into systems for well-defined military needs and for rapid transition to small unmanned aerial system.

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