Saturday, December 5, 2009

Week in review (11/29 to 12/5)

The aerospace industry already knows the market for unmanned aerial systems is going to grow. And now an effort is under way to open up the potential customer base even more by changing the current limitation on sales to foreign customers.

Reuters reported during the week that in a letter to President Obama, signed by more than 100 chief executives, the Aerospace Industries Association urged a broad overhaul of the U.S. export control system. (Story) The industry wants to change the Missile Technology Control Regime, an agreement aimed at limiting the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction. MTCR was created in 1987 by Canada, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States, but membership has since grown to more than 30 countries.

But the AIA says subjecting slow, unarmed unmanned aerial systems with limited maneuverability and performance capability to the same restrictions as cruise missiles is unnecessary and inappropriate. The MTCR hasn’t stopped the United States from selling UAVs to other countries, it does complicate the process and makes it more time-consuming.

What a chance in the MTCR might do is unclear. As it is, worldwide spending on remotely piloted aircraft will more than double to $7.3 billion from $3.4 billion annually within a decade and total nearly $55 billion in the next 10 years, Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy, estimated in a 2008 market study.

Any increase in the potential customer base would be of high interest to the Gulf Coast. Global Hawk and Fire Scout UAVs are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and there are other operations in the region involved in UAV work.

- Speaking of UAVs, 15 NATO nations will fund an air surveillance command and control system at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily. The Air Ground Surveillance system consists of eight Northrop Grumman Global Hawks. The NATO project is expected to cost between $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion. The project will be in place by 2012.

- The Coast Guard is actively pursuing a vertical-takeoff-and-landing unmanned aerial vehicle for its National Security Cutter, built in Pascagoula, Miss. In October, the service used Northrop Grumman's company-owned P6 Fire Scout for land-based tests in Maryland. It was equipped with off-the-shelf imaging surveillance radar. Northrop used its own money to integrate the radar on the P6, and in fact has been pouring R&D funds into the Fire Scout to reduce risk for potential customers.

During the week a letter from Northrop Grumman to the Pentagon saying it would not bid on the $40 billion tanker project unless changes are made in the draft request for proposals made a lot of headlines.

Northrop, which is teaming with EADS to offer the Airbus A330 and plans to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., says that under the draft RFP the contest shows a clear preference for a smaller aircraft, like the one Boeing is expected to offer in the 767.

From what the Pentagon is saying, it doesn’t plan to make any substantial changes in the RFP when the final one is issued in January. But if you’ve been following this tanker issue, you know how quickly things can change. There’s a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering, no doubt. Some analysts said they believed Northrop Grumman is posturing, and preparing for a future protest. It does appear unlikely the Northrop/EADS team will simply walk away. A lot has been invested in the lucrative contract, and it’s simply too big a deal.

- In another Airbus-related item during the week, David Trent, head of the Airbus Engineering Center at Brookley Industrial Complex, was named 2010 chairman of the board of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. The Airbus center has 145 employees who do interior design work on several Airbus commercial aircraft.

A congressional hearing during the week on astronaut safety turned into a pep rally for NASA’s Constellation program. Lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing endorsing Constellation and its Ares system as the best replacement for the shuttle. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat who heads the House subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, organized the hearing as a counter to a presidential panel that raised questions about the value of Constellation's Ares I rocket in favor of commercial launchers. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans are involved in the Constellation program.

Alliant Techsystems and Elbit Systems Ltd. successfully conducted flight tests of the Guided Advanced Tactical Rocket fired from an Army OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. The tests took place at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. GATR can be used in urban areas and against targets where a low collateral damage solution is required. GATR uses advanced acquisition, tracking and guidance algorithms to achieve one-meter accuracy against stationary and moving targets.

- Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans has begun $755 million worth of projects to modernize its facilities. It includes construction of a new concourse and the eventual abandonment of two old ones. The airport has identified 16 projects, including new signs and lighting at the terminal curbside and rescue station.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, is being awarded a $329.4 million modification to the previously awarded Joint Strike Fighter air system low rate initial production Lot III contract for special tooling and special test equipment. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home to the JSF training center. … Composite Engineering Inc., Sacramento, Calif., was awarded a $29.3 million contract which will provide Lot 7 option to procure a quantity of 36 additional BQM-167As. 691 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., is being awarded a $19 million modification to a previously awarded contract for AIM-9X Sidewinder (Block II) missile obsolescence and engineering technical support for the Navy and Air Force. Five percent of the work will be done at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $247.2 million contract for the funding of program year 2005 of the Army's Light Utility Helicopter program for 45 light utility helicopters and more. Work is to be performed in Columbus, Miss. EADS also has operations in Mobile, Ala. … GCC/Thomco LLC, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and CCI Group LLC, Shalimar, Fla., each were awarded $10 million contracts to provide base engineering requirements, maintenance, repair and minor construction efforts. 96 CONS/PKAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … ST Aerospace Mobile, Mobile, Ala., won a new airplane maintenance contract to maintain Airbus A320 and Boeing 767 planes belonging to an unnamed airline. The contract is worth $90 million for the first three years with an option for another two years worth another $80 million.

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