Saturday, November 28, 2009

Week in review (11/22 to 11/28)

You might not have heard much about it during the week, but the announcement that the United States won’t share the F-35’s sensitive software codes with allies who buy the Joint Strike Fighter is bound to have implications down the road.

The software coding is key to the stealthy plane's electronic brains, controlling systems ranging from weapons to radar and flight performance. The United States is concerned about protecting the code from falling into the wrong hands. But without the code, allies won't be able to maintain or upgrade the aircraft without U.S. help. And that irritates the British.

The Mail in the United Kingdom reports that British defense chiefs are furious, and see the decision as a blow to the “special relationship” between the two countries. The U.K., which has been pushing for access for years, doesn’t want to have to depend on the United States to maintain or modify the F-35s. It’s a question of sovereignty.

The F-35 built by Lockheed Martin and its partners is promoted as an international fighter development program. The United States has been shouldering most of the cost, but Britain is its biggest partner. Other core partners are Italy, Holland, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.

Lockheed Martin projects it will sell up to 4,500 F-35s worldwide. But whether this decision about the coding will lower the numbers remains to be seen. Australia just this past week approved the purchase of its first 14 F-35s. And Canadian officials are not concerned about the codes. A Canadian defense spokeswoman told the Ottawa Citizen that Canada knew it would not be provided with the codes.

The decision could be a boost to F-35 competitors, including Boeing’s F/A-18E/F SuperHornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies, Saab’s Gripen, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, and Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi Su-35.

For the Gulf Coast, the decision to withhold the coding may wind up giving this region yet another crucial aerospace asset. To address the concerns of allies, the United States plans to set up a "reprogramming facility," probably at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which is also the home of the first Joint Strike Fighter Training Center.

That reprogramming facility will further develop F-35-related software and distribute upgrades. Software changes will be integrated there and new operational flight programs will be disseminated out to everybody who is flying the jet.

The Pentagon's chief arms buyer during the week spurned pressure from Boeing allies in Congress to factor a World Trade Organization ruling against Airbus into the competition to build aerial tankers to the Air Force.

Ashton Carter told reporters the Pentagon addressed the trade issue when it put out draft bidding rules in September for a tanker rematch between Boeing and the team of Northrop Grumman and Airbus parent EADS. The Pentagon said the WTO findings were preliminary.

The issue is being watched closely in Mobile, Ala. If the Northrop Grumman/EADS team wins the competition, it will assemble the tankers in that city.

- An Australian A330 tanker has performed the first simultaneous fuel transfer with its all-digital hose-and-drogue system, fueling two fighter aircraft at the same time, according to EADS. The hose-and-drogue fuel transfers occurred Nov. 18 during a flight test sortie that utilized both the A330 MRTT's left and right under-wing pods. The plane conducted 11 simultaneous airborne refueling contacts with two NATO F/A-18 fighters and transferred more than 25,000 lbs of fuel. The tanker is the same type being offered by the Northrop Grumman/EADS team to the Air Force.

NASA has selected for development 368 small business innovation projects that include research to minimize aging of aircraft, new techniques for suppressing fires on spacecraft and advanced transmitters for deep space communications. Chosen from more than 1,600 proposals, the awards are part of NASA's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Six of the awards will develop technologies for the Innovative Partnership Program at John C. Stennis Space Center.

- NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will present astronaut Fred Haise Jr. with NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award during a Dec. 2 ceremony at the Gorenflo Elementary School in Biloxi, Miss. Haise will present the award, consisting of a moon rock encased in Lucite for display, to the superintendent of the Biloxi Public School System and the school’s principal. Haise attended Gorenflo many years ago.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman completed the first three MQ-8B Fire Scout production deliveries to the Navy, which completes the first year of Low Rate Initial Production for the UAV helicopter. Two of the three Fire Scouts were deployed aboard the USS McInerney for use on a scheduled operational deployment.

Fire Scouts have been aboard the USS McInerney four times since December 2008, completing 110 ship takeoffs and landings and 45 landings with the harpoon grid, accumulating over 47 hours of flight time. Fire Scouts are made in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Layoffs and recalls
Goodrich in Foley, Ala., will lay off 78 people in January. The layoffs are from the maintenance, repair, and overhaul division. A representative from the company blamed it on slow demand and the global recession. Company leaders say employees will be offered severance packages and will be eligible to keep their health insurance for six months. Goodrich employs about 800 people in Foley.

- Teledyne Continental Motors in Mobile, Ala., is recalling and replacing an engine part in several hundred airplane engines after the part began to wear out more rapidly than normal. The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all the planes containing the hydraulic lifters until the parts are replaced. About 450 engines and parts sets were in question, and more than two-thirds have already been replaced.

Passenger levels were up nearly 9 percent last month at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. Figures show there were 704,686 passengers, compared to 648,544 in October 2008. It’s attributed to concert-goers, conventioners and football fans.

Composite Engineering Inc. was awarded a $37.6 million contract which procures additional subscale aerial targets. 691 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

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