Saturday, November 27, 2010

Week in review (11/21 to 11/27)

Chalk it up as the protest that never quite took off.

There was a lot of concern prior to Thanksgiving that lines in the nation's airports would be long on Wednesday because of travelers protesting full-body scanners. For days activists waged a campaign on the Internet to encourage airline passengers to refuse full-body scans and insist on the even more intrusive pat-down.

But people, not surprisingly, were apparently more interested in making it to their destination than a symbolic protest.

Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport found that about as many passengers going through that terminal say they appreciate the enhanced safety of full body scanners as they do from those who feel it's intrusive.

The airport in New Orleans also has full-body scanners.

Rapiscan Systems of California is one of two companies making the systems. It has a production center in Ocean Springs, Miss.

The Air Force's blunder of sending information to Boeing that was intended for EADS North America and vice versa in the hotly contested aerial tankers contest led to the firing of two officials during the week.

That's really not that surprising, considering the mistake was an embarrassment for the already troubled attempt to replace the aging fleet of Air Force tankers. Heads had to roll. But Gen. Norton Schwartz dismissed reports that the release included confidential pricing information.

Does the mistake improve chances that the $40 billion contract will be split? Will we eventually see Boeing building its version of the tanker in Washington state and EADS North America assembling its version in Mobile, Ala?

The Mobile Press-Register’s George Talbot considered that issue in his column Wednesday. He found at least two analysts who think a split buy may be the only way out. But he also found two others who disagree with that assessment.

- In another Airbus/EADS-related story during the week, this one of interest to Stennis Space Center, Miss., Goodrich Corp. delivered its first thrust reversers for the Airbus A350 XWB twinjet. The thrust reversers will be installed on a Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engine to be used in the engine ground test program, scheduled to begin later this year.

The thrust reversers were shipped from Chula Vista, Calif., to the Rolls-Royce facility in Derby, England, where it will undergo initial testing before being shipped to a Rolls-Royce ground testing site at John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss.

DRS Training and Combat Control Systems of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., a business unit of DRS Defense Solutions of Bethesda, Md., has delivered its 1,000th airborne pod for the P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System.

The P5 CTS/TCTS allows the Navy, Marines, and Air Force and allies to train together using a common air combat training platform. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., awarded the prime contract in 2003 to Cubic Defense Applications of San Diego, Calif., with DRS TCS as a principal contractor. DRS has received orders of more than $210 million for P5 pods.

Unmanned systems
Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, Va., rolled out the first of three planned Orion five-day-endurance unmanned aircraft demonstrators at its Columbus, Miss., plant Nov. 22. That's three months after being picked by the Air Force Research Laboratory for the first phase of the Medium-Altitude Global ISR and Communications (Magic) program.

Aurora is in talks with potential system integrators to help put Orion into production if a U.S. Air Force-funded technology demonstration proves successful. Orion is designed to fly for 120 hours at 20,000 feet with a 1,000-pound multi-sensor payload. This compares with 24 hours for the MQ-1B Predator and its 450-pound payload.

Along the Gulf Coast, two UAVs, Global Hawk and Fire Scout, are built in part at a Northrop Grumman plant in Moss Point, Miss.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Week in review (11/14 to 11/20)

Two huge projects of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor continue to face problems. One is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the other is the Air Force tanker project. The F-35 is important to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which will be the home of the JSF training center. The tanker is an obsession of Mobile, Ala., which hopes to become the home of the tanker manufacturing facility.

First, the F-35. The project, already running behind schedule and costing far more than originally projected, hit another problem during the week when Lockheed Martin engineers in Fort Worth, Texas, found cracks in the rear bulkhead of an F-35B joint strike fighter jet undergoing fatigue testing.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that the cracks were found after the plane had been subjected to the equivalent of 1,500 hours of flight time. The B version of the F-35 is the Marine Corps variant. That's the version that the Pentagon is reportedly considering dropping. A draft recommendation from the co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, in fact, recommends dropping the Marine variant and speeding up development of the Navy and Air Force versions.

That aside, DoD late in the week awarded a $3.5 billion contract modification to Lockheed Martin to build 31 F-35s in Lot 4 low-rate initial production. Including the long-lead funding previously received, the total contract value for LRIP 4 is $3.9 billion. The planes are being built in Fort Worth.

The contract calls for Lockheed Martin to build 10 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants for the Air Force, 16 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants for the Marines, four F-35C carrier variants for the Navy and one F-35B for the United Kingdom.

Lockheed Martin is developing the plane with subcontractors Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. More than 30 F-35s were purchased in the previous low-rate production batches. The U.S., Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway plan to buy more than 3,100 F-35s. Israel recently announced plans to purchase 20.

And at Eglin? The base continues its work towards setting up the center. The two planes that were to be delivered this year now won't get there until next year. The Pentagon decided to fit those planes with more test equipment and send them to California.

The other project that continues to face problems is the battle between Boeing and EADS to build aerial refueling tankers for the Air Force. This week the Air Force, which has been so careful with this competition because of how badly the contest has been bungled in the past, managed to shoot itself in the foot.

The Air Force earlier this month sent internal assessements of the bids to each of the competitors, but mistakenly sent EADS' technical assessment to Boeing and Boeing's technical assessment to EADS.

Air Force spokesman Col. Les Kodlick said the service is analyzing the information that was inadvertently disclosed and has taken steps to ensure that both competitors have had equal access to the same information. Neither company has issued any comments or statements about the mix-up.

The Air Force expects to award the contract early next year. If EADS wins, the company plans to assemble the tankers, based on an Airbus A330, in Mobile.

- Speaking of EADS North America, that company and Airbus Americas will open a joint U.S. Sourcing Office at Airbus Americas' headquarters in Herndon, Va., in January 2011. EADS and Airbus have spent over $11 billion annually in the U.S. and support more than 200,000 American jobs.

The office will be responsible for mapping out a U.S. sourcing strategy and implementing an active procurement marketing effort. The office is part of the Global Sourcing Network, an EADS-wide organization dedicated to promote the globalization of the EADS procurement activities. It has offices in China and India.

EADS and Airbus have operations in Mobile, and EADS’ makes Lakota helicopters in Columbus, Miss.

Mobile Airport Authority members are considering removing the name "Brookley" from the industrial complex in downtown Mobile. That's the complex where EADS would assemble tankers should it win an Air Force contract.

Authority members Matt Metcalfe and Bert Meisler said they would prefer to see the word "Brookley" replaced by "Mobile." The discussion came up during a meeting when airport staff suggested rebranding the Brookley Field Industrial Complex as Brookley Aeroplex. Metcalfe said he would like the complex to be renamed Mobile Aeroplex. Authority members tabled the issue for a future meeting.

Stennis Space Center
NASA has awarded the test operations contract at Stennis Space Center, Miss., to Lockheed Martin Services Inc. of Houston. The test operations contract is valued at $95.7 million. As the test operations contractor, Lockheed Martin will be responsible for providing test operations, core operations and maintenance activities to support test projects at Stennis.

- NASA chose Air Products and Chemicals Inc. of Allentown, Pa., for the follow-on contract for the agency-wide acquisition of liquid hydrogen. It has a one-year base performance period with a one-year option period. Air Products will supply about 10,860,000 pounds of liquid hydrogen to Stennis Space Center, Miss., Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala, and Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

- NASA is teaming with students at 17 high schools in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee to design and develop hardware and software products for use in America’s space program.

Students will work with NASA engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and Stennis Space Center, Miss., on eight projects identified by the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) initiative.

The HUNCH teams include faculty leads and 10-15 student team members who will work with NASA mentors. Projects this year include hardware mockup for use on the International Space Station, heavy lift space vehicle subsystems and a portable rocket engine test stand.

One goal of the HUNCH initiative, which was launched in 2003 at Marshall, is to inspire high school students to pursue careers in science, technology or engineering fields.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman launched an advertising campaign urging the public to lobby Congress not to cut budgets for Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. It comes as the government considers cutting the defense budget by about $100 billion over the next five years. The campaign includes ads in newspapers and a website that makes it easy for people to email comments to members of Congress. Global Hawks are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Bell-Boeing Joint Project Office, Amarillo, Texas, was awarded a $10 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement for non-recurring efforts required to complete the fuel jettison mission management restriction removal engineering change proposal (ECP) for the Air Force CV-22. This ECP will remove the fuel jettison restriction allowing the aircrew to rapidly manage CV-22 aircraft mission gross weight. Two percent of the work will be done in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. … DTS Aviation Services Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $6.7 million contract modification which will provide aircraft backshop maintenance, munitions, and equipment support services for the Air Armament Center and for Air Armament command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems testing for a 12-month period. AAC/PKOB, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Week in review (11/7 to 11/13)

Will the Marine version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter be dropped? The co-chairmen of the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform think it should be, and apparently the Pentagon is looking at that possibility.

The commission, which can only make recommendations, issued a draft proposals to cut government spending, and in the long list is the suggestion to buy fewer F-35s for the Air Force and Navy, along with the elimination of the Marine Corps’ variant.

It remains to be seen how much of the draft proposal gets into the final recommendations due Dec. 1. But InsideDefense said during the week that senior defense leaders are considering revamping the F-35 program again, and possibly eliminating the Marine variant while speeding up development of the Air Force and Navy variants of the Joint Strike Fighter.

What all that might mean for Eglin Air Force Base., Fla., which is scheduled to be home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center, is a bit too early to tell. We said last week that the arrival of the first two F-35As, originally scheduled before the end of the year, has been delayed six months so further testing of the first models off the assembly line can be done.

Meanwhile, the first F-35C, the Navy's version designed for carriers, arrived last weekend at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The aircraft will conduct air-to-air refueling and performance testing at the Virginia base.

NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi conducted a successful test firing during the week of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II space launch vehicle.

The engine built by Aerojet was test-fired on Stennis' E-1 test stand. The test firing lasted 10 seconds and served as a short-duration readiness firing to verify AJ26 engine start and shutdown sequences, E-1 test stand operations, and ground-test engine controls.

The Taurus II space launch vehicle will take cargo to the International Space Station.

- Rolls-Royce has located the problem in older Trent 900 engines, like the one that blew apart last week and forced a Qantas A380 to make an emergency landing. The failure was the bearing box, which caused an oil fire and the release of the pressure turbine disc. Plans are to replace the part in the older Trent 900 engines. Rolls-Royce engines are now tested at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The outdoor facility, the H-1 test site, opened in 2008.

Beginning next month, Vision Airlines will offer service out of Northwest Florida Regional Airport, located at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The company, started in 1994 primarily as a charter service, is based in Suwanee, Ga., and will offer non-stop service to Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Miami.

- A life-size bronze bust of Mississippi aviator John C. Robinson was unveiled and dedicated during the week at Mississippi’s Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. The bust was commissioned by the John C. Robinson Brown Condor Association in honor of the Gulfport aviation pioneer. The unveiling is the kick-off of an effort to build the Mississippi Aviation Heritage Museum on the grounds of the airport.

New owners
LSI Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., plans to acquire the assets of Aviation Systems Inc. of Northwest Florida next month. Founded in 1994, ASI of Pensacola provides training device design, engineering, manufacturing and repair services. ASI’s facility is 20,000 square feet and has 50 workers. LSI is an employee-owned training company and has more than 450 workers.

Blue Angels
The Blue Angels closed out the 2010 season with the annual Homecoming Air Show at Naval Air Station Pensacola Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Along with the flying, more than 50 military and civilian aircraft were on display.

Cubic Defense Applications of San Diego, Calif., won a $35 million contract as part of an industry team developing the Common Range Integrated Instrumentation System (CRIIS) for U.S. military test ranges. CRIIS, which will be operational at eight ranges, including Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., provides data to support weapon system testing for a variety of platforms, including aircraft, ships, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, ground vehicles and soldiers. Cubic is a subcontractor for Rockwell Collins, which was awarded a $140 million contract to develop the first phase of CRIIS. … Diligent Consulting Inc., San Antonio, Texas, was awarded a $24 million contract which will provide for Air Education and Training Command Department of Defense information assurance certification and accreditation process support services. AAC/PKO, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Raytheon Co., Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $16.2 million contract modification which will exercise the high-speed anti-radiation missile targeting system fiscal 2011 contractor logistics support option. AAC/IBAS, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week in review (10/31 to 11/6)

With the mid-term elections now behind us, the analyses of what it all means are coming fast and furious. Some predict that the new House Republicans are likely to advocate a more muscular approach towards China, some are saying Republican gains may be bad news for Boeing and good news for EADS in the fight over the tanker project.

That's all to be seen, but one thing for certain for the Gulf Coast is that Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., long associated with his support for the military, is on his way out. The chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and expeditionary forces has served since 1989. Taylor carried all three of the populous coastal Mississippi counties, but he lost the more rural counties and was unseated by Republican Steven Palazzo.

- With all the focus on the elections in this country, you may have missed this item from across the pond in Europe that's bound to have a major impact on the defense industry. During the week Britain and France announced a far-reaching defense partnership that includes setting up a joint force and sharing equipment and nuclear missile research centers.

The treaties mark an unprecedented degree of military cooperation between the two NATO allies, Western Europe's biggest defense spenders and only nuclear powers. It was prompted by a desire to maintain cutting-edge military capabilities in an age of reduced defense spending. How that will work out when the two nation's disagree, as they did with the war in Iraq, is yet to be seen. (Story) In a related item, Britain's BAE Systems and France's Dassault Aviation are in talks about joining forces to develop unmanned aircraft. (Story)

Lockheed Martin planned to deliver two F-35As to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., before the end of the year to begin training pilots. But according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram's airline, travel and aerospace blog, InsideDefense reported that the Pentagon wants the first low initial rate production F-35s off the assembly line outfitted with extra testing equipment for an additional six months of testing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. That will delay pilot training until at least the late summer of 2011. Eglin will be home to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter training center.

- There were also reports during the week that the price of the F-35 continues to increase. The nation’s most expensive arms program could face additional costs and delays beyond those that prompted the Pentagon to overhaul the effort earlier this year. (Story)

- Meanwhile, three Northwest Florida counties and the Air Force have taken the first step to study ways to reduce the impact of noise from F-35s. Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties agreed to find a consultant to conduct a noise reduction study of homes, businesses and public buildings within areas that will be exposed to high noise levels from the 59 F-35s. The commander of the 96th Air Base Wing and other Air Force officials also will participate.

Science center
A "topping out" ceremony has been scheduled for Nov. 17 for the Infinity Science Center being built near NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. The ceremony marks a milestone in construction of the multimillion-dollar education center, set to open in 2012. In addition to the placing of a tree at the highest part of the structure, there will be remarks by key officials.

Infinity, located near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line and the Mississippi Welcome Center along Interstate 10, is designed to interest young people in science, technology, engineering and math, and to increase the public’s understanding of the earth, space and ocean science work done at Stennis Space Center.

Florida's Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport marked 75 years of service early in the week at an event attended by about 100 people. The airport started as a private development before being sold to the city of Pensacola in 1935. The city has spent $50 million over the past several years on renovations. Federal funds paid for $45 million in runway improvements. Other Central Gulf Coast cities served by commercial airports include New Orleans, Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., Mobile, Ala., Fort Walton Beach-Valparaiso-Crestview, Fla., and Panama City, Fla.

LCS modules
Northrop Grumman won a $29 million Navy contract to begin production of three mission module packages for littoral combat ships, including an anti-mine warfare package that includes the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. The project also includes two surface warfare packages.

The LCS modular design means the ship can go to the port where mission packages are staged, off load its current package and replace it with a new one in a few days. The first package is scheduled for early 2012 delivery and the others later that year. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., is one of two companies building LCS ships for the Navy.

Lockheed Martin won a $230,000 contract from the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to define requirements for an airborne weapon using high-power microwave energy beams instead to take out enemy electronic systems.

The Non-Kinetic Counter Electronics Capability contract will lead to development of a new weapon to destroy electronic equipment without explosives. Lockheed Martin will deliver its findings in the first quarter of 2011. The system would be aimed at structures containing electronic equipment that high-power microwave bursts would render useless.

C5 work
Goodrich received a contract from Lockheed Martin to supply 160 pylons for the Air Force C-5 airlifter Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program. Work on the pylons, which attach engines to the wings, will be done in Foley, Ala., and Chula Vista, Calif., the company said.

The contract extends an earlier deal between the two companies to provide pylons and nacelles for three test aircraft as well as nine airplanes in the initial phases of the enhancement program. Pylons are scheduled for delivery beginning in early 2011 through the end of 2015, the company said. Goodrich has 700 workers in Foley.

Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $106.4 million contract modification which provides for the exercise of the Lot 7 option for small diameter bomb production for munitions, carriages and technical support. AAC/EBMK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $23.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for organizational, selected intermediate and limited depot-level maintenance for F-16, F-18, H-60, and E-2C aircraft operated by the adversary squadrons based at Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nev.