Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week in review (3/28 to 4/3)

Countries worldwide are lining up to buy one of the most coveted pieces of military technology in the world, the Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk. That's the gist of an AP story during the week.

The popularity of the unmanned aircraft is good news for South Mississippi. Some of the fuselage work for the Global Hawk fuselage is done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center.

Northrop Grumman just wrapped up an Asian tour, and in addition to Japan, other nations considering adding the surveillance aircraft to their arsenals are South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Britain, Spain, New Zealand and Canada. Germany already has a contract for a variant called the EuroHawk, which will be delivered this year.

The Global Hawk also has civilian applications. They've been used to respond to natural disasters, most recently to support relief efforts in Haiti. And NASA, which has two Global Hawks of its own, plans are to use them during the upcoming hurricane season.

Gemma Loochkartt, a spokeswoman for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in San Diego, Calif., told AP that the Global Hawk fleet is now 21 planes finished or under construction. But she says that's likely to grow substantially.

Europe's EADS during the week got a deadline extension, but not as much as it wanted.

The Pentagon said it will extend the deadline by 60 days if EADS officially decides to submit a bid to build Air Force tankers. EADS had said it needed a minimum of 90 days. Folks in Alabama were encouraged somewhat. It means Mobile, Ala., still has a shot - slim though it may be - of getting an EADS assembly plant.

Nobody else seemed entirely happy with the extension. EADS, which may still have to find a U.S. partner even though it can compete as the prime contractor, didn't get the extension it wanted. Boeing and its supporters were, predictably, angered over any extension of the deadline.

EADS had partnered with Northrop Grumman for the $35 billion contract to replace the current fleet of tankers. The team won in February 2008, but that was overturned following a Boeing protest. The request for proposals was redone, and Northrop Grumman dropped out in March on grounds that the new requirements favor Boeing's smaller aircraft.

During the week, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the government would extend the deadline from May 10 to July 9 if EADS expressed an interest in bidding. EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said the company made it clear it needed 90 days as a minimum, but it's looking closely at the 60-day extension.

In a ceremony at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 451 was reactivated after a 13-year absence. The unit is being redesignated Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 and will train Marines to pilot F-35 fighters. It will train at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which will be used by all the services for initial training in the F-35. The Marines will use the short-takeoff, vertical landing variant of the Lockheed Martin-built plane.

Two airports in South Mississippi won federal grants for improvements. Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point will receive $809,753 for runway and taxiway lighting work. Stennis International Airport in Bay St. Louis will get $104,500 for airport apron construction and wildlife hazard assessment. The Department of Transportation grants are part of $8.6 million in funding through the Airport Improvement Program.

- Two airports in the region are launching new air service. In Mississippi, Branson Air Express will begin service between Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and Branson, Mo., starting May 17. It will use 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145 regional planes operated under charter by ExpressJet Airlines Inc. In Florida, American Airline's regional affiliate American Eagle will offer twice-daily non-stop flights from Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport to Miami International Airport. The service begins Tuesday.

Raytheon Co. has delivered an operationally significant quantity of the Miniature Air Launched Decoy to the Air Force, allowing the service to reach its "required assets available" as scheduled. The 300-pound MALD decoy is modular, air-launched and programmable with a range of 575 miles. Currently integrated on the B-52 bomber and F-16 fighter aircraft, MALD can be certified on any aircraft with a 14-inch suspension carriage. Raytheon is also developing a jamming variant of the MALD and expects to deliver its first system in 2012.

Several contracts awarded during the week have Gulf Coast connections. Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $13.5 million contract which provides support for four months of AMRAAM system engineering and program management due to delay of Lot 24. 695ARSS/PK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $55.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract for non-recurring efforts associated with Increment III of the CV-22 aircraft Block 20 upgrade program. Four percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … Computer Sciences Corp., Falls Church, Va., was awarded a $31.5 million contract for information technology support services to sustain the Naval Education Technology and Professional Development Training Command, Pensacola, Fla. Fifty-seven percent of the work will be done in Pensacola. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., received a modification of $6.3 million to provide an additional six months of lease services of four helicopters for pilot training in support of Air Force Special Operations Command. Work will be performed at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

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