Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week in review (9/27 to 10/3)

Now that the Air Force has reopened the competition of the tanker contract, and now that the first week has passed, it’s clearer than ever that the only way out of the tanker mess will be to buy tankers from both Northrop Grumman/EADS and Boeing. It took no time at all for a controversy to begin.

Boeing is competing against Northrop Grumman and partner EADS to build the tankers to replace the old KC-135s. EADS plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala. The last contest ended in a Northrop/EADS win, but a protest by Boeing was upheld by the Government Accountability Office. The rematch finally got under way last week when the details of the request for proposals were released.

Within days of the restart, Northrop Grumman cried foul that Boeing had been given access to Northrop’s pricing information after the contract was awarded to Northrop in February 2008. Northrop has been denied similar access to Boeing's information.

"It is fundamentally unfair, and distorts any new competition, to provide such critical information to only one of the bidders," said Paul Meyer, Northrop's president and general manager.

Then Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., introduced legislation to block funding for the tanker program until the Pentagon releases pricing data to Northrop Grumman from the first round of competition.

Jacques Gansler, former Pentagon acquisition chief, told Aviation Week he was surprised the Air Force disclosed Northrop's pricing data for its winning proposal to Boeing during the company's debrief. He said they had to know there was a protest coming.

Gansler is also raising questions about the methodology proposed by the Air Force. It calls for a pass/fail rating on 373 requirements. The price of the bids that pass all of those requirements will be adjusted based on performance in various wartime scenarios and peacetime operations. He says his impression is they are trying to avoid a protest instead of trying to do the best thing for the warfighter.

All we can say is, stay tuned.

- With Boeing already facing new competition against Northrop in the tanker competition, you got to figure it really smarted during the week when Boeing found out it lost another competition - this one a $3.8 billion contract - to Northrop Grumman to maintain and service Air Force KC-10 refueling tankers. Boeing has been servicing the planes for more than a decade, and its current contract expires in January.

As if all that isn't enough to lock jaws at Boeing, the company is watching as its rival EADS dig in even deeper in the Gulf Coast region. EADS North America, the European company's U.S. subsidiary, held a grand opening during the week for a new 30,000 square-foot maintenance, repair and overhaul delivery center at the Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama. It's the same city - though not the same location - where EADS hopes to assemble the tankers.

The $6 million facility will provide North American operators of the C-212 and CN-235 tactical transports with a certified FAA repair station and direct manufacturer support. The C-212 and CN-235 are used by a variety of military and civil operators, including the U.S. Coast Guard, which is building a fleet of HC-144A Ocean Sentry maritime patrol aircraft based on the CN-235.
The new facility expands upon an already-existing EADS CASA North America facility that’s provided training, spares and customer support since 2005. EADS used the grand opening to announce it has renamed EADS CASA North America to Airbus Military North America. The new facility will bear the Airbus Military name.

It's official now. Eglin Air Force Base's 33rd Fighter Wing, which for years flew F-15s as an operational organization, is now a training wing and part of the Texas-based Air Education and Training Command.

Col. David Hlatky, the new commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, said training the first generation of F- 35 Joint Strike Fighter pilots and maintainers is the "privilege of a lifetime." The wing, which now falls under AETC's 19th Air Force, is the Department of Defense's first joint strike fighter organization.

Meanwhile, about 30 miles away from Eglin at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., the 479th Flight Training Group officially activated Friday. The group’s first training jet, a T-1A Jayhawk with the ceremonial name "The Spirit of Pensacola," arrived at the base Wednesday.

Last year construction began at NAS Pensacola on the $45 million training facility. The 479th will train 360 aircraft navigators and combat systems officers and electronic warfare officers. The new training school was brought to Pensacola through the 2005 decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It combines three existing training groups to provide a training pipe line with more options for students.

All of this just reinforces the Gulf Coast region is a hot spot for military training.

- In another base-related event during the week, a workhorse of the military was given a ceremonial goodbye during an event at the Army National Guard’s Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot in Gulfport, Miss., Saturday.

The 9 a.m. event commemorated the UH-1 Iroquois "Huey," which retired from the Army inventory in September. The event was also a way to pay tribute to the pilots and crew chiefs from Mississippi who flew the UH-1 during its tenure with the Army National Guard. The AVCRAD where the ceremony took place is at the Trent Lott National Guard Training Center on the east side of Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. It does repair work on helicopters from a nine-state region, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I.

- Seems a lot of folks are noticing the benefits of training in this region. Members of the 53rd Wing of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, were at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to test the capabilities of B-1s in an effort to better defend the aircraft and prove the strength of new software systems.

"The main purpose of our deployment out here is to conduct defensive threat reaction test to basically validate our defensive tactics against threats," said Lt. Col. Jeff Aldridge, 337th Test Evaluation Squadron commander. The squadron flew two B-1s to Eglin for a week and was able to complete extensive testing.

Aldridge said that normally they fly two missions a week but at Eglin they are flying every day. The B-1, a long-range bomber, can track, target and engaging moving land vehicles. The tests revealed more information about the aircraft's software.

Bunker buster
While we're on the subject of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., here's one to keep your eye on.

A 20-foot long, 30,000-pound "bunker buster" bomb designed to destroy hard targets or targets buried deep underground is moving forward fairly quickly, based on a series of contracts recently awarded to Boeing unit McDonnell Douglass.

Back in August, Reuters reported that the Pentagon wanted to speed deployment of the bomb on board the radar-evading Northrop Grumman B-2s as soon as July 2010. The non-nuclear Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), developed by the Air Force and Boeing, is designed to destroy deeply buried bunkers beyond the reach of existing bombs. And this one is huge, a third heavier than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Burst Bomb (MOAB) tested twice at Eglin in 2003. Eglin is also handling the MOP program.

In June, the Air Armament Center at Eglin said it planned to buy 20 of the bombs, five to be used for tests. In August, McDonnell Douglass was awarded a $12.5 million contract to provide for three MOP separation test vehicles, associated aircraft and handling equipment, and technical support for one single and one dual release separation and de-conflict test on the B-52 aircraft. Just this past week, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a $51.9 million contract to provide MOP integration on B-2 test aircraft.

Construction of the A-3 test stand at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi is approaching another milestone with delivery and installation of 14 water, isopropyl alcohol and liquid oxygen tanks.

Nine of the tanks already have been installed, with the remaining five to arrive on-site in upcoming weeks. The A-3 stand will provide high-altitude testing on the J-2X engine in development for the Constellation Program, NASA’s bid to return humans to the moon and beyond.

This and that
The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., is in the running for an innovation award from the C4ISR Journal. The awards honor outstanding innovations in intelligence gathering and networking. Finalists were selected for five categories: sensors, innovations, organizations, network systems and platforms. A "top five award" will be presented to one winner from each category at a banquet later this month in Arlington, Va.

In addition to Fire Scout, the other products in the innovations category are QinetiQ’s solar-electric powered Zephyr, Sierra Nevada’s sensor pod for tactical level ISR, the Naval Air Systems Command’s digital close air support system and Raytheon’s ARTEMIS imaging spectrometer. By the way, QinetiQ has an operation in Long Beach, Miss.

- Despite signs that the recession is easing, some companies are still feeling he pinch. Mobile's Teledyne Continental Motors workers face more unpaid down time in the future. The entire 420-worker plant, which makes aircraft engines, will shut down this week and most of the 160 salaried employees will work only four days a week for the remainder of the year. Hourly employees will work a normal schedule, officials said. Holiday schedules are also trimmed back. All this is being caused by a downturn of business.

In addition to the contract mentioned earlier for the bunker buster, eight contracts with a connection to the Gulf Coast, including three for one company, were awarded during the week. The multiple contracts were awarded to L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss. One was a $47.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for total aircraft maintenance and logistics life cycle support for 54 Navy and 11 Marine Corps C-12 aircraft. Some of the work will be done at Naval Air Station New Orleans. The second contract was a $17.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract for additional logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance of 14 T39N and 6 T-39G aircraft at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The third contract was a $7 million aircraft lease service contract for four helicopters for pilot training in support of U. S. Special Operations Command's Air Force Special Operations Command. Work will be performed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Other contracts awarded during the week: Tybrin Corp., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $6.2 million contract to provide for non-personal advisory and assistance services to fully support aerospace research, development, test and evaluation activities at the Air Force Flight Test Center. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $16.1 million contract for 155mm Excalibur Block 1A-1 projectiles, with six percent of the work to be done in Niceville, Fla. … Kaman Precision Products Inc. of Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $6.4 million contract to provide for joint programmable fuze systems. 679 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Cubic Defense Application Inc., San Diego, Calif., was awarded an $8.6 million contract to provide 20 P5 combat training system pods, four display and debrief stations and two control display units, as well as contractor logistical support to be placed at two locations in Egypt. 675 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $17 million contract to provide for miniature weapon demonstration research and development for a 5-year ordering period. AFRL/RWK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

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