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.