Saturday, October 9, 2010

Week in review (10/3 to 10/9)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to make headlines. In Northwest Florida, where the Air Force is establishing a training center at Eglin Air Force Base, the noise issue hasn't gone away. On the broader front, cost issue continue to come up.

Aviation Week reported during the week that the Defense Department's decision to decertify Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth fighter assembly facility for poor auditing caught company officials off guard. The plant is where F-35s are built.

The company said a corrective action plan was accepted by the Defense Contract Management Agency in late June, and it's in place. But that didn't stop the Pentagon from forcing the issue through the decertification. At issue is Lockheed's adherence to Earned Value Management System standards, used by contractors to provide data to the Defense Department to audit the progress of programs. (Aviation Week story)

If you're not familiar with the Earned Value Management System, you're not alone. As National Defense magazine points out, EVMS is something familiar only to government procurement folks. But it's being blamed for the cost overruns with the F-35 program. The magazine details some of the issues, and steps being taken to address the problems. (National Defense story)

But there was some positive news as well for the F-35 during the week. Flight tests were resumed after fixes were made to a software flaw with the jet's fuel pumps. Test aircraft of the three variants were grounded Oct. 1 after lab tests revealed a fault in software that controls three fuel-boost pumps, raising concern they could shut down during flight and stall the engine. But as officials said, the testing is designed to find these problems before an aircraft becomes operational.

And contracts are still coming in for the stealthy aircraft. Lockheed Martin was awarded a $13 million modification to a previously awarded contract to incorporate the shipborne rolling vertical landing capability into the F-35 for the United Kingdom. Work will be done in Texas, the United Kingdom, California and Florida.

And Israel during the week became the first buyer outside the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s nine-nation development group when it signed a $2.75 billion deal to buy 20 F-35s. Deliveries are slated for between 2015 and 2017.

The U.S. plans to buy 2,473 of the F-35s, and eight international partners may buy 700 more. Fifty-nine of the aircraft will be going to Florida's Eglin Air Force Base, where a JSF training center is being established. Precisely what runways will be used is still up in the air, so to speak.

The city of Valparaiso, adjacent to Eglin Air Force Base, has taken on the Air Force over the noise issue. It has again retained the services of a Tallahassee law firm as it seeks clarification of Eglin’s draft of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement released last month. The law firm represented Valparaiso in both of its lawsuits against the Air Force that were settled earlier this year.

The Air Force has already said it will limit flights from the Eglin runway that would cause the most noise problems for Valparaiso. The supplemental environmental impact statement analyzed 19 alternatives for F-35 flight operations, and narrowed to seven the options that will be presented at scoping meetings. Runways at Duke Field and Choctaw Field are being considered as auxiliary fields for the school. (Northwest Florida Daily News story)

Unmanned systems
Japan is considering buying three Northrop Grumman Global Hawks to help monitor China and North Korea, according to Kyodo News, citing sources in the Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces.

The unmanned high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft can fly at altitudes of 60,000 feet for more than 30 hours. Although the ministry has been conducting basic research on unmanned surveillance aircraft since fiscal 2003, Japan is now tilted toward first importing the Global Hawk. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., at the Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center.

A California company working with Ukrainian planemaker Antonov lost a protest over the U.S. Air Force's decision to reject its bid for the tanker program. The bid arrived five minutes late, but U.S. Aerospace claimed the Air Force conspired to prevent the bid from arriving in time.

A protest was filed with the Government Accountability Office in August, and in mid-September the GAO rejected part of the claim. Wednesday's decision fully denied U.S. Aerospace's claim. EADS, which hopes to assemble the tankers in Mobile, Ala., at Brookley Industrial Complex, and Boeing, which will build them in Washington, are the only competitors for the $40 billion contract.

Meanwhile, in California during the week, aerospace workers, city and state officials rallied as part of an effort by EADS North America to showcase its candidate for the Air Force tanker contract, the KC-45 tanker.

The rally counters similar efforts by Boeing, the other competitor in the tanker fight. This rally was hosted in Irvine by Parker Aerospace. Parker would be a major supplier on both the KC-45 and Boeing's proposed KC-767 program.

Members of the media were invited to Mississippi's John C. Stennis Space Center during the week for a roundtable discussion with the center's director, Patrick Scheuermann. He assured them that the future looks bright for Stennis, in part because of its diversity.

SSC is where rocket engines are tested, but it has more than 30 tenants, the largest being the U.S. Navy. The media also got a tour of the construction site of the new A-3 test stand, which will be able to test rocket engines at simulated altitudes up to 100,000 feet, and the E-1 test stand that will be used to test Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines.

SES Construction and Fuel Services LLC, Oak Ridge, Tenn., was awarded a $7 million contract for work at the 81st Medical Support Group, Arnold Annex and Main Clinic, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The estimated completion date is Aug. 1, 2011. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $91 million contract which will exercise fiscal 2010 options for logistics support of the T-1A aircraft at Vance, Columbus Randolph, and Laughlin Air Force Bases and Pensacola Naval Air Station.

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