Saturday, March 13, 2010

Week in review (3/7 to 3/13)

The decision by Northrop Grumman and EADS early in the week to drop out of the competition to build tankers for the Air Force shouldn't have surprised anyone. Northrop had been saying it may not submit a bid since it appeared the Air Force now wanted a smaller tanker. Boeing will now be the sole bidder for the $40 billion contract, and it means Mobile, Ala., will not be assembling KC-45 tankers at Brookley.

Done deal? Likely, but by the end of the week there was at least one report, by Reuters, saying the deadline for bids on the tanker might be extended to give EADS a chance to consider whether it still wants to compete. Seems unlikely, but in this highly politicized program, nothing is surprising anymore.

In throwing in the towel, Northrop CEO Wes Bush, he said the company "will not protest" the request for proposals, even though it feels it has substantial grounds to support a GAO or court ruling to overturn the revised source selection process. Bush said America's warfighters have waited too long for a tanker.

That's certainly true. The Air Force has been trying to replace the tankers for a decade now. Leasing the replacements from Boeing fell apart after a scandal, then Northrop/EADS won the competition in February 2008, but that was overturned after a protest by Boeing. The Air Force came up with a new competition and a new RFP. Northrop said this one favored the smaller Boeing plane. The company, which has to answer to shareholders, decided it would be a waste of money to compete.

The reaction from Boeing supporters and Northrop Grumman/EADS supporters was just what you would have expected. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the Air Force had a chance to provide the most capable plane for warfighters and “blew it.” Washington’s Gov. Chris Gregoire applauded Northrop’s decision not to protest the RFP.

Two leaders in Jackson County, Miss., right next door to Mobile, chose to look at it all a bit differently. George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation, said he was disappointed with the Northrop decision not to bid. But he said the Gulf Coast region "still possesses all the ingredients necessary to support new aerospace and technical development and job creation." Jerry St. Pe, former president of Ingalls Shipbuilding, agreed, saying that there are "other opportunities in this whole sphere of aerospace technology that this region is ideally positioned to take advantage of."

Valid point. Take some time to look at the overview of the Gulf Coast aerospace region. That will give you a better sense of what Freeland and St. Pe are talking about.

The tanker is far from the only aerospace activity of interest to the Gulf Coast region. Folks from Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and Stennis Space Center in Mississippi will be paying close attention to an event in Florida next month.

That’s when President Obama will, apparently, spell out his vision for the future of American astronauts in space. It will be at a conference April 15.

The president has been criticized over plans to kill the Constellation Program, designed to return astronauts to the moon and beyond. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he hopes Obama will use the meeting to lay out a goal and a timetable for sending astronauts to Mars. Although Constellation is under the gun, the program passed a two-day preliminary design review recently.

Joint Strike Fighter
It was reported during the week that the projected cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has increased 60 to 90 percent in real terms since 2001, well past a level requiring the program to be revamped. Pentagon officials said the estimated price of each F-35 jumped to $80 million to $95 million, as measured in 2002 dollars, from $50 million when Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract in 2001.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is slated to be the location for the Joint Strike Fighter Training School. More than 100 of the initial cadre at 33rd Fighter Wing have arrived. Training is still expected to begin this year, but it could be on simulators.

South Mississippi's Keesler Air Force Base's total economic impact for fiscal year 2009 has been calculated at more than $1.1 billion. In addition to employee payroll figures and construction and purchases, the total impact includes military retiree pay and the value of volunteer services as well as jobs indirectly created on the Gulf Coast. Keesler, in Biloxi, is where the Air Force does training in electronics. It's also home to the 403rd Reserve Wing.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $148.7 million contract to provide for 6,565 Lot `4 guided vehicle kits procured for the Joint Direct Attack Munition. 678 ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. ... McDonnell Douglas also was awarded an $8.8 million contract for 100 focused lethality munitions-small diameter bomb I variant. 681 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services Inc., Rockville, Md., was awarded a $23.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract for maintenance, logistics, and life cycle services in support of communication-electronic equipment/systems and subsystems for various Navy, Army, Air Force, special operations forces and other federal agencies. Two percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … Boeing Co., St Louis, Mo., was awarded a $69.7 million contract which will provide for the QF-16 full scale aerial target basic contract. 691 ARSS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

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