European Aeronautic Defense and Space said during the week that the Air Force’s latest specifications for an aerial tanker will not yield significant technological improvements over the current tanker fleet.
Sean O’Keefe, head of EADS North America, said the current draft request for proposals is not a modernization program, but a replacement program. Meanwhile, the CEO of Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security Systems Division, said that company is well positioned to meet the demands of a fixed-price contract, even though the company doesn’t like it.
EADS and partner Northrop Grumman, which want to assemble the planes in Mobile, Ala., have threatened to withdraw from the contest if the RFP is not changed from the current version, which they say favors the smaller plane being offered by Boeing.
- Speaking of EADS, two Alabama Army National Guard UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopters were unveiled during a ceremony last week. The guard is getting four of the helicopters from EADS North America. They’ll be based at the Army Aviation Support Facility #2 in Birmingham, Ala. EADS North America has delivered 93 Lakotas to the Army and five to the Navy. The UH-72As are built in Columbus, Miss., by the American Eurocopter business unit of EADS North America.
- Northrop Grumman got a bit of bad news during the week. The Army told Congress it’s terminating a robotic vehicle and unmanned aircraft program that were once part of the Army’s Future Combat Systems. The terminated unmanned ground vehicle is the Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment Countermine and Transport, and the UAV is the Fire Scout, which is built in part in Moss Point, Miss. But it hardly means the end of the program. The Navy is using Fire Scouts, and Northrop Grumman is also pitching the UAV to the Coast Guard.
Air Force officials are testing the waters to see if training with avatars in a virtual environment is effective. It would allow students who are assigned on temporary duty to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., to use computers at their home base for training. Keesler officials say if TDY students are able to complete the training from their home base, the savings to the military could be as high as $700,000 a year in housing, food, and transportation costs.
- The demand for training in explosive ordnance disposal is on the rise. The Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will be at maximum capacity in fiscal 2010, with 1,786 students – up from 1,705 students in 2009 and 1,283 in 2008. The executive officer of the school said this year’s increase will be the last one until additional facilities are built.
Military personnel from the Gulf Coast are heavily involved in providing help to Haiti. Two MC-130H Combat Talon IIs from the 15th Special Operations Squadron and multiple teams from the 720th Special Tactics Group at Hurlburt Field, Fla., deployed during the week to Haiti in support of humanitarian operations.
These teams brought an array of capabilities with them to the country devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Jan. 12. In addition to opening up the airport at Port-au-Prince, combat controllers are trained to survey other areas to look for potential airdrop and landing zones so other cargo and personnel can be accepted into the country if required.
The Coast Guard assigned the new HU-144A Ocean Sentry aircraft based out of Mobile, Ala.'s, Coast Guard Aviation Training Center to help with relief efforts in Haiti. The Ocean Sentry is the new medium-range fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft. The Ocean Sentry is powered by two turboprop engines and has a crew of five or six.
Other military personnel helping to provide aid include Navy Seabees from Mississippi and medical personnel from Pensacola, Fla.
- The commander of Eglin Air Force Base told lawmakers in Tallahassee, Fla., during the week that oil and gas drilling in Florida waters could threaten military operations. Col. Bruce McClintock told the House Military Affairs and Local Policy Committee that when Eglin fires missiles at drones, the drones and the spent missiles “have to fall somewhere.” Drilling supports say the entire Gulf is not a military training area, and exclusion zones can be set up.
Next-gen air traffic system
A next-generation air traffic system is now in place covering the Gulf of Mexico. Houston air traffic controllers are now using Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, a GPS-based technology, to separate and monitor aircraft flying over the Gulf of Mexico. The milestone was announced during the week by the FAA administrator. Philadelphia will roll out its ADB-B system next month, and the system will be available nationwide by 2013.
Nearly a half-million dollars will be used to begin work on Whiting Aviation Park, a 269-acre facility near Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla. The Santa Rosa County Commission voted to seek bids for infrastructure work. The commission discussed having county road crews do the work for some $315,000, but decided to seek bids to see if a private contractor can do it for less. Commissioners also approved $175,000 for a consultant to develop a master plan. The park, which will have access to one of Whiting's runways, is intended to attract aviation-related businesses.