Saturday, September 26, 2009

Week in review (9/20 to 9/26)

The biggest aerospace story during the past week for the Gulf Coast aerospace region was the release of the guidelines for the competition to build aerial tankers for the Air Force. The contract is worth some $35 billion to build 179 planes in the first of three acquisition stages. Boeing and the Northrop Grumman/EADS are the competitors to build the tankers.

Lawmakers were briefed on the draft request Thursday. It cut from 800 to under 400 the number of requirements, and opts for a best-value tanker instead of best price. It will also be a fixed-price contest.

The Air Force also decided not to put in anything about the ongoing trade dispute between Boeing and EADS over government subsidies. The World Trade Organization made a ruling that favors Boeing on one phase of the rift. But another part of the dispute might well go in EADS’ favor. The Air Force did not want to include anything about a trade dispute that will take years to resolve.

Boeing plans to offer a tanker based on the 767 or 777, or perhaps both. The Northrop Grumman/EADS team will be offering a tanker based on the Airbus A330. Boeing wants to build the tankers in Washington and Kansas, and Northrop/EADS want to assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

This is the third attempt to replace the aging KC-135 tankers. The first attempt was a lease arrangement that was scuttled because of some shaddy antics by a top Boeing and Air Force official. The second contract was awarded to the Northrop Grumman/EADS team in February 2008, but a Boeing protest was upheld on grounds the selection process was flawed.

NASA is targeting Oct. 27 for the flight test of the Ares I-X rocket. There is another launch opportunity on Oct. 28. The date will be finalized at a Flight Test Readiness Review scheduled for Oct. 23 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch will provide NASA with an opportunity to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations, while gathering critical data for the Ares I rocket and future launch vehicles. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are both involved in the NASA’s space program.

- A next-generation satellite designed and built by Lockheed Martin is performing as required following its successful launch from Cape Canaveral earlier this month. The program, designated PAN, consists of a turnkey commercial-based satellite, ground and launch system developed to meet the U.S. government's future needs. The satellite is based on Lockheed Martin's A2100 spacecraft series. Some of the work on the satellite was done at Lockheed Martin Space and Technology Center, Stennis Space Center, Miss.

New Orleans officials intend to find out whether investors are interested in making Louis Armstrong International Airport the nation's first privately operated airport. The Federal Aviation Administration this month accepted the local airport’s application to participate in a pilot privatization program that the FAA authorized for U.S. airports in 1997.

- In Biloxi, Miss., Keesler Air Force Base’s 81st Medical Group has received full accreditation as a joint training platform. The program was evaluated by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in April and can proceed with training four general surgeons each year for five years of general surgery residency. The surgical residency was restructured in 2008 to include integration with the Naval Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., 96th Medical Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and the Biloxi Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

At least eight contracts with Gulf Coast connections were awarded during the week. Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $133.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for maintenance and logistics services in support of 374 T-34, T-44, and T-6 aircraft. Some of the work will be done at NAS Whiting Field and NAS Pensacola. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded two contracts. One was a $112.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance required to support 49 T-45A and 151 T-45C aircraft based at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss., NAS Kingsville, Texas, and NAS Pensacola, Fla. The other was a $44.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics support for 126 TH-57B/TH-57C aircraft. The work, 99 percent, will be performed at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Milton, Fla. … Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded a $90.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for intermediate and depot level maintenance and related support for in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines. Work will be performed at the Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Patuxent River, Md. … Jacobs Technology Inc., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded $18.1 million under a previously awarded contract to provide support of the transition from the NMCI environment to the next generation USMC IT environment. … BAE Systems Technology Solutions & Services, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $5.9 million modification under a previously awarded contract to exercise option year three for ammunition handling and management services for Navy Munitions Command, East Asia Division Detachment Pearl Harbor. … InDyne Incorp., of Reston, Va., was awarded a $14 million contract which will provide Eglin Test and Training Complex range in Florida operations and maintenance of test and training areas and technical facilities to include test and training mission support, engineering support for range system design/modification/range configuration and range support services to accomplish authorized range activities. … Del-Jen Inc., Gardena, Calif., was awarded $23.1 million modification under a previously awarded contract to exercise the second option period for base operations support services at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Saufley Field, Corry Station, and Bronson Field.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Week in review (9/13 to 9/19)

Quite a bit went on during the week in the ongoing story about the multibillion-dollar Air Force tanker contract. One item of particular note: The Air Force decided not to add language about the World Trade Organization ruling over subsidies to the request for proposal.

In a case brought by the United States, the WTO ruled subsidies from European governments to EADS’ Airbus were illegal. Boeing supporters wanted that considered when awarding the tanker project. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley called the WTO ruling preliminary, and noted that another case brought by the European Union is pending.

Also during the week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Air Force will be in charge of awarding the $40 billion contract. The authority had been removed earlier when two previous attempts to award a contract were botched.

Meanwhile, Boeing unveiled additional details of the company's potential offering in the tanker competition during a briefing at the Air Force Association's 2009 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington, D.C. The company said it’s prepared to offer either the 767 or larger 777. The company also launched a new Web site for information on the KC-7A7.

Boeing is competing against the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to build the tankers. EADS wants to assemble them in Mobile, Ala. Boeing wants to make them in Washington state.

There was also a tanker-related item that’s not really tanker related. Ronald D. Sugar, chairman and CEO of Northrop Grumman since 2003, announced he'll retire in June 2010. Wesley G. Bush, president and chief operating officer, will take his place.

Air Force officials during the week released the criteria to determine where F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will be based. Factors such as airspace, flight training ranges, weather, support facilities, runways and more will be important. More than 200 sites will be evaluated for the two lists the Air Force is compiling. One is for F-35 operations, the other for training. The lists will be announced in the spring of 2010. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., already has a lock on its F-35s. It’s been designated as the joint training base.

The 308th Armament Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., now has a new director, Randy Brown. The wing is transitioning to a directorate as part of the realignment plan. The 308th ARSW is a joint Air Force and Navy organization responsible for management of air dominance weapon system programs.

- A bronze plaque was mounted on a granite pedestal and placed in front of the Air Armament Museum during the week to commemorate Eglin Air Force Base as a historic aerospace site. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics named Eglin as one of four sites to receive the honor for 2009.

- American Airline announced a new service for Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport in Florida. The company said it will offer two nonstop daily flights to Miami on its American Eagle regional jet service by the end of this year.

At least five contracts of interest to the Gulf Coast were awarded during the week. Harkins Development Corp., Sanford, Fla., was awarded a $7.5 million contract for the design/build of a concrete block facility at Hurlburt Field, Fla. … Hanco Corp., Hattiesburg, Miss., was awarded an $8.1 million contract for construction of a barracks, warehouse, and houses at Camp Shelby, Miss. … Greenhut Construction Co. Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $10.6 million contract for the design, repair and modernization of the administrative building at Naval Air Station Pensacola. … Rehabilitation Services of Madison, Miss., was awarded a $19.5 million contract to provide a full food service contract at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 81 CONS, Keesler Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. … BAE Systems Technical Services of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $39.6 million contract to manage, operate, maintain, and logistically support the solid state phased array radar system at several bases.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Week in review (9/6 to 9/12)

The White House during the week received a report from a special committee assigned to assess NASA’s goals. The panel recommends NASA shelve the idea of rapidly returning to the moon – the Constellation Program – and instead focus on nurturing a robust commercial space industry to handle short-term objectives.

The recommendations from the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee stops short of explicitly rejecting the goal of launching a mission back to the moon. All that hasn’t stopped NASA from moving forward on the Constellation Program.

During the week NASA and ATK conducted the first test of the Ares I first stage rocket motor. The test was in Utah. The solid rocket booster is planned for NASA's Ares I and Ares V rockets, key vehicles in the Constellation Program. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are key NASA facilities on the Gulf Coast, and both are involved in Constellation.

- QinetiQ North America subsidiary, Analex Corp., was honored as large business prime contractor of 2009 by NASA's Kennedy Space Center. It’s for engineering and technical management services. QinetiQ, of Fairfax, Va., has an operation in Long Beach, Miss.

The 33rd Fighter Wing ended a 30-year history at Eglin Air Force Base when the wing’s last three F-15s left the base during the week and headed for Arizona. The wing is preparing to host the Joint Strike Fighter Training School. The official transition doesn’t take place until early next month.

- Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog has assumed command during the week of the 2nd Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., from Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers. The 2nd Air Force at Keesler is the Air Education and Training Command organization that oversees technical and combat training for 250,000 students annually.

EADS chief Louis Gallois says Airbus did nothing wrong in a trade dispute with the U.S. over subsidies, and called for a negotiated settlement with Boeing. In an interview published during the week in La Tribune, Gallois defended the system of government launch aid, calling it more transparent than "opaque subsidies" he said Boeing receives. The World Trade Organization issued a ruling that has yet to be made public. The ruling is of interest to the Gulf Coast because Boeing is competing against the Northrop Grumman/EADS to build Air Force tankers. EADS wants to assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

- Alabama Gov. Bob Riley got a close-up look at the tanker during the week while he was in Europe. The Birmingham News reported that Riley flew for an hour in an aerial tanker built by EADS’ Airbus during a visit to Spain. Riley also toured EADS aircraft-assembly bays in Madrid.

At least three contracts of interest to the Gulf Coast were awarded during the week. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. received the third of four one-year options, valued at $98.1 million, on a contract for the U.S. Air Force Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and other locations. … Defense Support Services LLC of Mount Laurel, N.J., was awarded an $86.4 million contract for acquisition of aircraft maintenance support services for Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. … BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $7.4 million modification under previously awarded contract to exercise option two for operation and maintenance support for facilities operating under Naval Computer & Telecommunications Area Master Station Hawaii.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Week in review (8/30 to 9/5)

As if the contest between Boeing and EADS over the Air Force tanker contract isn’t complicated and politicized enough, a ruling late in the week by the World Trade Organization has made it even more so.

The WTO issued a lengthy ruling that backed a U.S. complaint, filed in 2004, that EADS-owned Airbus received illegal European government subsidies, giving the company an unfair advantage over U.S.-based Boeing. Still pending is a European Union complaint alleging illegal government subsidies have been given to Boeing through Washington state tax breaks and non-repayable federal military and space contracts.

But the fact that this is only the first round of the subsidies debate hasn’t stopped the ruling from making its way into the tanker debate. Boeing backers, who want the tankers built in Washington state, say the Pentagon needs to consider the ruling when it awards the $40 billion contract. The other side, who want the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., say the only factor should be the best tanker.

Whether it’s officially considered or not, the WTO issue will be a factor. The Pentagon certainly understands it will take years before this subsidies debate plays out, and trying to figure out the ultimate outcome based on the first round is risky. There’s a 50/50 chance of getting it wrong. Even before the WTO ruling, it was clear that no matter which company wins, the other would protest. The ruling by the WTO will give the losing side even more ammunition for a protest.

This whole issue of subsidies is a battle that should have been avoided in the first place. Government money has subsidized portions of the private sector for years, and will continue to do so. It varies only in degrees and types. Local governments have provided tax breaks and state governments have built infrastructure to benefit companies for years, and will continue to do so. Competitors don’t complain because it may be their company that benefits from the next government largess.

And the trend lately has been even more help from tax dollars. Look at the billions Washington has spent to shore up banks, insurance companies and automakers. It’s amazing that any government can point an accusatory finger at another with a straight face. The whole issue of government subsidies and will get even more sticky when China’s aerospace industry one day begins competing for contracts.

The Air Force has already waited too long to replace the aging fleet of tankers, and it simply should not make a decision that will guarantee protests and further delays. The only smart approach is a split the buy. Everyone wins, including American and European taxpayers who have poured money into Boeing and Airbus. And the most important taxpayer that will benefit will be the American warfighter. They need a break more than anyone else.

The independent Augustine Commission will release its report on the future of U.S. manned spaceflight in mid-September. The panel had planned to release its report last week, but that was delayed. The 10-member panel did plan to send a draft of its executive summary to NASA and the White House. Even though it has not been officially released, the key finding has been that NASA does not have the funding needed to return astronauts to the moon and beyond.

- Despite the uncertainty over the future, NASA has taken another step toward building the next crew exploration vehicle. It completed the Orion Project's preliminary design review. Orion is designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station and other destinations as part of the Constellation Program.

The preliminary design review is one of a series of checkpoints that occurs in the design life cycle before hardware manufacturing can begin. Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center, Miss., are both involved in the Constellation Program.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Lockheed Martin F-35 factory in Fort Worth, Texas, during the week and said the importance of the aircraft can’t be overstated. He held up the Joint Strike Fighter as an example of new, innovative and more cost-effective ways to meet the country's current and future defense needs.

The Joint Strike Fighter is being developed to meet the needs of three services. The $300 billion program is a partnership of the U.S. and allied nations. Gates said he’s particularly excited that the F-35 appears to be on schedule to equip the first training squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., by 2011.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman is developing a common autonomous airborne sense-and-avoid system for both the Air Force and Navy Global Hawks. The services were pursuing separate solutions for operating the aircraft in national airspace, but the Navy announced its intention to award Northrop a sole-source contract to develop a common system. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Three Panhandle cities, Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, are competing to land low-cost, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines. Panama City hopes to get the service at a new airport it plans to open in 2010, while Fort Walton Beach would like to have Southwest to make up for losing AirTran to Pensacola nine years ago. For Pensacola, landing the carrier would coincide with a $78 million expansion.

Three defense contracts of interest to the Gulf Coast were awarded during the week. In all three cases the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. InDyne Inc. of Reston, Va., was awarded a $168 million contract for Eglin Test and Training Complex Range operation and maintenance. … Tybrin Corp. of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $37.4 million contract for software engineering support of guided weapons systems evaluations, simulations, and other services supporting research and development for the principals and customers of the Air Armament Center. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $7.2 million contract to provide for software and hardware updates for the F-16 avionics test station located at the 46TH Test Squadron's Data Links Test Facility at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.