Saturday, June 20, 2009

Week in review (6/14 to 6/20)

The Pentagon will decide soon how to structure the multi-billion-dollar contest to replace the Air Force's tanker fleet. That's according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He also said he'll decide soon the acquisition authority, and hopes to get a request for proposal out by mid-summer. Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS team will compete for the contract. If it wins, EADS wants to assemble the tankers, based on the A330, in Mobile, Ala. Boeing will build its tankers in Washington state.

Boeing said it will offer a 777 as well as a 767 in the competition against the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to provide aerial tankers for the Air Force. Jim Albaugh, Boeing’s defense chief, made the comment in a briefing at the Paris Air Show. The larger aircraft would offer maximum fuel capacity and the 767’s selling point is its flexibility, he said.

Ronald D. Sugar, chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman, and Louis Gallois, CEO of EADS, issued a joint statement at the Paris Air Show affirming their commitment to the Air Force tanker project. Top executives from Airbus said the U.S. industrial base will be increased if the Airbus A330 beats Boeing for the U.S. Air Force tanker contract.

Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida is opposing a measure now in Congress, fearing it threatens the military mission in Northwest Florida. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal to change a 2006 law that opened 8.3 million new acres for drilling lease in exchange for a prohibition of drilling in the eastern gulf’s military testing range. Nelson says it’s not worth the sacrifice to national security. The military uses the Gulf of Mexico for pilot and weapons training.

- DRS Technologies announced during the week the receipt of follow-on orders of $43.9 million for the P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System. DRS will be responsible for the production, testing, and fielding of the pods flown on a variety of aircraft. Under contracts were awarded by the 689th Armament Systems Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The pods will be manufactured at the DRS Technologies facility in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., and deliveries will begin in mid-2010.

Unmanned systems
The newest version of the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk will be unveiled during a rollout this week in California. The Block 40 RQ-4 version of the unmanned jet has improved sensors and radar for tracking ground targets. The roll-out of AF-18, the 27th Global Hawk built, is June 25 at the Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center in Palmdale, Calif. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., did fuselage work on AF-18.

The head of the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., had a wide ranging discussion with the editorial board of the Northwest Florida Daily News Friday. Among other things, Maj. Gen. Charles R. Davis discussed the noise controversy over establishing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Training Center at Eglin. He says he feels confident all 107 F-35s will eventually be placed within the Eglin range.

- Rockwell Collins and Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems said their joint venture, Vision Systems International LLC, received several contracts from Lockheed Martin totaling more than $54.1 million for 52 helmet-mounted displays for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and 30 additional systems. Rockwell Collins also received initial financing for the pilot facility standup at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the displays. The joint venture will start delivering the items this year, with deliveries running through 2012.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems' New Orleans facility will begin a loaned labor program to keep workers employed as NASA shuts down its space shuttle program. Lockheed, which has about 2,000 workers in its eastern New Orleans facility, has built external fuel tanks for the space shuttle. By loaning out its employees, the company hopes to hang on to them until they are needed when new space projects ramp up.

Three companies are marketing an airborne system designed to detect underground tunnels and caves. The INSITE VI system resulted from a partnership between AeroTec, NVision Solutions and EnTech Engineering. The system uses a helicopter fitted with a sensor able to detect changes in terrain and ground temperature. Experts can see up to 80 feet deep into the earth to find caves, tunnels, pipes, and leaks in levees not visible from the ground. NVision is based in Bay St. Louis, Miss., AeroTec in Birmingham, Ala., and EnTech in St. Louis, Mo. AeroTec also has an office in Picayune, Miss.

Ground was broken Tuesday for the National Flight Academy, a $26.5 million construction project at the national Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The academy will be a weeklong educational camp for seventh to 12th grad students. The academy will teach science, math and technology, with a focus on naval aviation.

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