Saturday, August 22, 2009

Week in review (8/16 to 8/22)

With Boeing and the Northrop Grumman locked in battle over the Air Force tanker project, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how much the two giants – and other defense contractors - cooperate on major military projects.

Case in point: The U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s airborne laser project. Just this past week the agency and its industry team successfully fired in flight for the first time the high-energy laser aboard the ABL, Airborne Laser aircraft.

The project’s prime contractor is Boeing, which uses a modified Boeing 747-400F as the test platform. Boeing also provides the battle management system. Northrop Grumman designed and built the ABL's high-energy Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser, or COIL, the most powerful laser ever developed for an airborne environment, and Lockheed Martin developed the weapon system's beam control/fire control system.

The back half of the 747-400F holds the high-energy laser and front section contains the beam control/fire control and battle management systems. Maintaining precise alignment of optical components within the laser while in flight ranks among the program's notable accomplishments. The aircraft took off from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and fired its high-energy laser while flying over the California High Desert. The laser was fired into an onboard calorimeter, which captured the beam and measured its power.

ABL is designed to provide speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. The beam is designed to exit the aircraft through a nose-mounted turret. The project is on track to shoot down a boosting ballistic missile later this year. (Releases: Globe Newswire, Boeing)

- Speaking of contracts, changes are ahead in the acquisitions community as Defense Department officials reshape the acquisition work force to support the reforms of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President Barack Obama.

The Defense Department will increase the number of federal civilian workers involved in acquistion-related jobs by 20,000, while cutting the contractor work force by about 10,000. That will expand the acquisition work force from its current 127,000 federal employees and 52,000 contractors to 147,000 feds and about 42,000 contractors by fiscal 2015.(Release: American Forces Press Service)

During the past week, the A-2 test stand at Stennis Space Center, Miss., was put on “standby” status now that the last space shuttle main engine test has been done. Engine No. 0525 was tested July 29, and the shuttle program is set to end in 2010.

The new A-3 test stand is still being built and will be used for high-altitude testing of the J-2X engine that will be used in Ares I and Ares V rockets. Activation on the A-3 stand is scheduled to begin in early 2011.

- Two Stennis Space Center engineers were among the inaugural class of graduates from NASA's Systems Engineering Leadership Development Program. Dawn Davis of New Orleans and Bryon Maynard of Lacombe, La., were among 15 program participants recognized during a leadership workshop and graduation ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

- Lockheed Martin plans to cut about 800 jobs at its space systems division by the end of the year due to anticipated flat space program budgets. The company will offer a voluntary buyout plan this month to space systems employees. The cuts will include technical, managerial and administrative positions at facilities in Denver and Sunnyvale, Calif. Lockheed Martin has a space and technology operation at Stennis Space Center.

This and that
- The Jackson County Aviation Technology Park was designated as “shovel-ready” during a certification ceremony Thursday. The designation means all the work to prepare a site for construction has already been done by the time a potential tenant comes calling. The 300-acre park already has one tenant, the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, which builds portions of the Global Hawk and Fire Scout.

- Add John Lehman to the list of defense experts who see buying tankers from both Boeing and Northrop Grumman as a solution to the Air Force's dilemma over replacing refueling tankers. Lehman, an investment banker and former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, has long been an advocate of "competitive acquisition" in government contracting. It's good business, he told the Mobile Press-Register.

- A short takeoff/vertical landing variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter has become the first F-35 to complete an aerial refueling test using the Navy- and Marine Corps-style probe-and-drogue refueling system. It’s the first in a series of tests that will clear the STOVL F-35B variant for extended-range flights, particularly to its primary test site at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be the home of the F-35 training center.

Five defense contracts to four companies were awarded during the week with a Gulf Coast connection. All five list Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as the contracting activity.

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $21 million contract for the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile system improvement program. …
McDonnell Douglass Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $12.5 million contract to provide for three Massive Ordnance Penetrator separation test vehicles, aircraft and handling equipment and technical support for one single and one dual release separation and de-conflict test on the B-52. In a separate contract, the company was awarded a $98 million contract to provide integration and production of the laser joint direct attack munitions system on various Foreign Military Sales aircraft platforms throughout the life of the contract.… Business Technology and Solutions, Beavercreek, Ohio, was awarded a $13.3 million contract and Colsa Corp., Huntsville, Ala., was awarded a $10.8 million contract, each for the technical and acquisition management support program that provides non-engineering, technical and acquisition management support required in the acquisition, development, production, and support of various equipment and weapon systems within the Air Armament Center and other organizations at Eglin Air Force Base.

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