Saturday, August 7, 2010

Week in review (8/1 to 8/7)

For anyone who's followed the ongoing saga of the Air Force's attempt to replace its aerial refueling tankers, it probably wasn't much of a surprise that one of the competitors has already filed a protest.

U.S. Aerospace, the financially troubled California company that teamed up with Ukranian planemaker Antonov for an 11th hour bid on the $40 billion contract, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office after its bid was rejected for arriving five minutes past the deadline.

The company, which filed the protest Monday, said it got to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio a half-hour before the deadline, but could not get into the base. When the courier finally did get in, the messenger got lost. The bid was stamped 2:05 p.m. – five minutes late. The claim is they were delayed on purpose by the Air Force.

Apparently the folks at U.S. Aerospace have never tried to get on a military base, or any federal facility for that matter. If they did, they'd know it's not easy. Reporters learn early on that if you have an appointment at a base – even if it's with the commanding officer – you better give yourself plenty of time. Much depends on the specific base you're going to, but as a matter of course you give yourself an hour, and certainly no less than 45 minutes.

U.S. Aerospace should have practiced by trying to get into Mississippi's Stennis Space Center. Delays there are almost legendary. When the media is invited to any event at SSC, they have to arrive well before the event. The organizations at SSC understand that and take it into account when inviting the media, having them arrive well in advance of the particular event. You don't just go to the desk and get your pass. It's a first-come, first-served.

I have a feeling that if the Air Force had its druthers, it would have preferred to have received the U.S. Aerospace/Antonov package on time. The last thing this program needed was another protest.

So can we assume the only competitors now are Boeing and EADS? The only thing I'm willing to assume in this battle is that Boeing still plans to build the tankers in Washington state and EADS still wants to build them in Mobile, Ala. Beyond that, I'd assume nothing.

While we're on the topic of sagas, the struggle over the direction of NASA may be making its way towards a resolution. I'm sure our space workers at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans will be happy to finally see this issue resolved.

The Senate during the week defied the Obama administration's plans to gut NASA's rocket development program by voting to pass a compromise bill that preserves some of the contracts from the Constellation program.

Just in case you've been too obsessed with the tanker issue and have not had time to tune into this particular struggle, in February the president said he would cancel plans to return astronauts to the moon and beyond and instead have commercial companies send them to low Earth orbit.

That raised concerns for politicians with NASA facilities and Constellation-related work in their back yard. Everyone has been busy trying to hammer out something both sides could live with. Now the bill from the Senate has to be reconciled with one in the House.

Unmanned systems and hurricanes
NASA during the week talked about its upcoming research into the formation of hurricanes. It's called the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes mission, and it's designed to study how hurricanes are created and why they can intensify rapidly.

The mission involves three NASA research aircraft, including the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. While those UAVs are best known for surveillance over war zones, NASA got two early versions of the aircraft to use for earth science missions. Both are based in California, but this story is of high interest to the Gulf Coast because of the obvious - we have to worry about hurricanes. But also because newer versions of the Global Hawk are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

GRIP will run from Aug. 15 to Sept. 25. If you want to learn more about GRIP, grab a PDF version of a story I wrote last year for the quarterly newsletter, Alliance Insight, a publication of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Alliance for Economic Development. I was able to chat with Dr. Ramesh Kakar well before this project became widely known. You can grab a copy of the newsletter here.

The good and not so good
On the good side, Singapore Technologies Engineering, parent of ST Aerospace Mobile in Mobile, Ala., signed a contract to maintain 75 Boeing 757s for Delta Air Lines over the next 18 months. Most of the work will be done in Texas, but at least some will be done in Mobile at the Brookley complex.

The Mobile operation has 1,400 workers. Singapore Engineering also owns VT Halter Marine, which has 1,500 workers in Pascagoula, Moss Point and Escatawpa, Miss.

The not so good: Northrop Grumman issued Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications to 52 employees at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans. Companies are required to provide advance notice to employees in the event of potential large layoffs. But the company remained confident it would get the contract and continue to support the squadron. Northrop Grumman since 1995 has provided maintenance to the Navy Reserve E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning Squadron.

The 308th Armament Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been re-designated as the Air Armament Center's Armament Directorate to comply with new personnel strength standards for units across the Air Force. The wing's six subordinate groups were also re-designated as divisions and their 24 squadrons will be re-designated as branches.

The wing's mission will not change and no gain or loss of jobs is expected. The headquarters and staffing locations of the newly re-designated organizations will also remain the same as members continue to manage the acquisition of 14 munitions and combat support programs as well as multiple projects critical to the warfighter.

Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., during the week was awarded a $492.4 million contract to provide air-to-air missiles, instrumentation, test equipment and more for a variety of organizations, including Foreign Military Sales customers, the Air Force and Navy. AAC/EBAC, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

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