Saturday, January 29, 2011

Week in review (1/23 to 1/29)

As this column shows, there's plenty of Gulf Coast-related aerospace news in any given week. But I also track other science and technology fields in this region, so starting this week, I'm providing - after the aerospace wrap-up - some tidbids from related fields of interest to this region. I hope it will help readers understand just how big a role science and technology plays in the Gulf Coast region.

The much ballyhooed Gorgon Stare, an airborne surveillance system that would vastly increase the area a drone can see, was deemed "not operationally effective" when tested in the fall by the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. But military officials rightfully point out that such tests are done precisely to find problems beforehand, and fixes are being put in place.

The problems, including low image quality and an inability to sufficiently track people on the ground, were detailed in a six-page December draft report obtained by the Center for Defense Information's Winslow Wheeler. The memo, marked as a draft and pre-decisional, found more than a dozen problems.

Gorgon Stare, being developed by Sierra Nevada and the Air Force, uses nine or more cameras aboard a Reaper unmanned system to survey a city-sized area. It promises to increase surveillance capabilities dramatically (Brief).

- Speaking of the 53rd Wing, Eglin Air Force Base will host a 70th anniversary celebration Thursday at Hangar 1343. According to Eglin, festivities include a brief history of the wing, time capsule dedication and a former commander of the wing as guest speaker. Combat aircraft from many of the operational test wing units will be on display during the ceremony, including an F-16, F-15, F-4, B-1, B-52 and others.

- An F-15E Strike Eagle at Eglin Air Force Base flew its first sortie with a new radar system that replaces the 24-year-old APG-70 radar system, according to Eglin. The 46th Test Wing fighter flew with the APG-82(V)1 Jan. 18. The new radar uses active electronically scanned array radar technology composed of numerous small solid-state transmit and receive modules. The standard radar, APG-70, is a mechanically scanned array housed in the nose of the aircraft. The new radar removes the motors and hydraulics of the old system and includes a new avionics and cooling system.

An economist says Okaloosa County, Fla., will experience 10 years of growth in the next two years. Rick Harper of the University of West Florida made the comment during the week at the annual Military-Community Sustainability Forum.

Harper cited personnel and mission increases brought about through base realignment, as well as Vision Airlines making an airport in Okaloosa County a hub. He said the challenge will be managing the expected growth.

The forum also included a panel discussion that featured some of the top commanders at Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Naval Air Station Whiting Field. They provided, among other things, updates on the move of the 7th Special Forces to Eglin and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. (Story)

Speaking of the F-35, Pentagon officials unveiled details during the week of some changes that will be made to the Marine Corps version of the F-35 during its two-year probation, according to the New York Times. Among the changes are a redesign of parts related to the propulsion system and reinforcement of the fuselage. Meanwhile, the Pentagon's delay of the purchase of 124 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin beyond fiscal 2016 should reduce its five-year budget request by $6.9 billion, officials say (Story). Eglin Air Force Base will be the home of the F-35 training center.

NASA says two tests of an Aerojet AJ26 engine at Stennis Space Center, Miss., were so successful that Orbital Science Corp. engineers decided a planned third test was unnecessary. The AJ26 engine was removed from the E-1 test stand at SSC Jan. 24 and will be returned to Aerojet in California to be refurbished and used on an upcoming Taurus II mission.

The same day the engine was removed, the first flight engine was installed to begin regularly planned "acceptance testing" at SSC. The AJ26 flight unit will be tested in February, and then delivered to Orbital at the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for integration with the rocket's first stage core. Orbital's Taurus II rocket will be used to carry out commercial cargo supply mission to the International Space Station (Brief).

- Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., has been named chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee's Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, a key appointment for a freshman congressman who represents an area that includes NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Palazzo defeated incumbent Gene Taylor in the November elections.

Defense industry sources told The Hill in recent weeks that the $35 billion contract to build Air Force tankers won't be awarded until mid-February. Now a defense insider says it may not come until March or later because of a Senate probe into the inadvertent release of bidders' information to the competing bidders, Boeing and EADS. EADS North America wants to assemble the plans in Mobile, Ala.

The new head of New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport has scaled back a $755 million modernization plan that was put in place before his arrival. Instead, Aviation Director Iftikhar Ahmad is opting for a $200 million effort he expects will be done in time for New Orleans to host the Super Bowl in two years.

- Vision Airlines announced the expansion of its low-fare air service from Atlanta, Houston and St. Petersburg, Fla., into the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport beginning Feb. 9. Vision Airlines’ service to Gulfport will use Boeing 737s. Earlier, Vision Airlines also announced some 20 new flights using an airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as a hub.

CSC Applied Technologies, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $24.9 million contract modification which will exercise an option for the Base Operating Support service contract at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., from Feb. 1, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012. 81 CONS/LGCM, Keesler Air Force Base is the contracting activity. .. Hamilton Sundstrand Corp., Windsor Locks, Conn., is being awarded a $24.6 million contract for procurement and installation of Electronic Propeller Control System kits into the C-130T aircraft for the Navy Reserves and the LC-130H aircraft for the Air Force National Guard. Thirty-five percent of the work will be done in Crestview, Fla., and the rest in Windsor Locks, Conn., and is expected to be completed in December 2013.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: In Mobile, Ala., Austal USA will get $2.5 million from the Mobile County Commission and another $2.5 million from the Mobile City Council as incentive to help the company expand at its Mobile River yard (Brief). … Northrop Grumman's Aegis guided missile destroyer William P. Lawrence, built in Pascagoula, Miss., successfully completed its combined super trial in the Gulf of Mexico (Brief). … Textron Marine & Land Systems in New Orleans will build a sixth 47-foot Motor Lifeboat for the Mexican navy (Brief). Advanced materials: In Hattiesburg, Miss., students from eight high school polymer programs were on hand for the second annual High School Polymer Science Day held at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Shelby Thames Polymer Science Research Center (Brief). … Nylon maker Ascend Performance Materials of Foley, Ala., plans a $7 million expansion that will create 20 jobs (Brief). Marine science: Two research professors from Mississippi State University have joined the leadership team at the Northern Gulf Institute at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Robert J. Moorhead and Donald C. Jackson will serve as director and deputy director, respectively (Brief). Research: Mississippi State University, based in Starkeville, Miss., but with operations on the Gulf Coast, moved up in the latest Carnegie classifications from the "high research activity" to the "very high research activity" category, the highest research category for doctorate-granting universities. The University of South Alabama in Mobile, Ala., and the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Fla., moved up to “high research activity” (Brief). … Mississippi and Louisiana improved their overall ranking in the latest Milken Institute State Science and Technology Index. Louisiana is ranked 45, up one spot from 2008, while Mississippi improved two spots to 48. Alabama is ranked 31, down two spots, and Florida slipped three spots to 40. The study uses 79 indicators to come up with its rankings (Brief). … A new group has been formed at Stennis Space Center, Miss., to focus on intellectual property. It’s called the Gulf Coast Patent Association (Story).

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Week in review (1/16 to 1/22)

Creation of a hub at a Northwest Florida airport, an Airbus tanker boom problem, good news and bad for F-35 fighter and the launch of a year-long celebration of naval aviation highlighted aerospace stories for the Gulf Coast region during the week.

The choices for passengers are about to expand in the Gulf Coast region. Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., got a tremendous boost during the week when Atlanta-based Vision Airlines announced new flights beginning March 25.

The airline is adding service to Asheville, N.C., Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Huntsville and Birmingham, Ala., Baton Rouge, La., and more. It will also begin service from Gulfport-Biloxi International to Atlanta, Houston and Tampa.

According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, the decision to use Northwest Florida Regional Airport as a hub will generate a regional economic ripple expected to produce nearly 4,200 jobs and bring in $160 million in revenue. That's according to state Rep. Matt Gaetz, who bases that on figures generated by Northwest Florida State College. (Story)

The airport, which serves Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Crestview, Valparaiso and other cities in the Florida Panhandle, is one of a half-dozen commercial airports that serve the northern Gulf Coast region.

A large part of a refueling boom broke off from an Airbus tanker during an exercise last week off the coast of Portugal. Both the tanker, which is being delivered to the Australian air force, and a Portuguese F-16 were damaged in the accident. The cause is still being determined. The boom fell into the Atlantic Ocean.

What impact, if any, the incident will have on the competition to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force is unclear. The Pentagon is trying to decide between a Boeing-built 767 and an Airbus A330 for its new tankers. If Airbus is chosen, EADS North America plans to assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

In another tanker story during the week, Flightglobal reported that Boeing won't bid on India's aerial refueling tanker competition. Boeing will only bid on future international tanker opportunities if it wins the contract to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force. (Story)

China's military buildup is apparently causing Japan, South Korea and Singapore to engage in bilateral talks with government officials to discuss the F-35, according to the Wall Street Journal. The immediate cause may be recently published images showing China’s J-20 stealth aircraft.

Meanwhile, a report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation shows the F-35 has previously undisclosed problems with its handling, avionics, afterburner and helmet-mounted display, according to Defense News. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center.

About 500 people gathered at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Thursday to mark the birthday of the establishment of the Navy's first flight school. The ceremony featured speeches by Navy officers and politicians. Pensacola, which launched its school with 32 aviators 97 years ago, has events spread throughout the year to mark 100 years of naval aviation.

- Sen. John McCain will be at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., next Friday to attend a winging ceremony. His son, Ensign John S. McCain, is one of more than a dozen graduates who will receive wings of gold at the ceremony. The Arizona senator will speak at the event, which is not open to the public.

ST Aerospace Mobile was the subject of a Public Broadcasting Service investigative report that aired Tuesday on "Frontline." The report alleged, among other things, that workers falsified records and failed to follow FAA rules to track parts. Company officials called the report shallow, biased and sensationalized, and responded point by point to questions posed by the Mobile Press-Register. (Story)

Composite Engineering Inc., of Sacramento, Calif. was awarded a $34.7 million contract modification which will exercise the Lot 8 option to procure a quantity of 40 additional BQM-167As, also known as the Air Force Subscale Aerial Target. AAC/EBYK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Week in review (1/9 to 1/15)

The ongoing debate over the direction of NASA, some good news about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and the arrival of F-16s at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base were among the aerospace news items that came down the pike during the week. There was even something about the tanker project: nobody can yet say when a winner will be announced.

Anyone who closely follows NASA, and we do on the Gulf Coast because of Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, is certainly aware that the fighting is continuing over the direction of NASA.

During the week it became clear that NASA and some senators are in disagreement about the heavy-lift and crew exploration vehicles. The agency said in a report released during the week that it can't build them under the cost, schedule and engineering constraints imposed last fall by Congress.

That prompted a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., David Vitter, R-La., Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, of the Senate Commerce Committee: the production of a heavy-lift rocket and capsule is not optional. The agency has to do it. (Story)

- In a less controversial matter during the week, NASA got a new deputy chief technologist. It's Michael Gazarik, deputy director for programs in the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The announcement was made by NASA Chief Technologist Bobby Braun. The office is responsible for coordination, integration and tracking of all technology investments across the agency.

- At Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Blade Dynamics, the wind turbine manufacturer, plans to hire 40 salaried, technical operator positions. The positions require a minimum of one-year manufacturing or production experience, performance of industrial math and the ability to work rotating shifts. By 2015 Blade Dynamics plans to have some 600 employees on its payroll with an annual salary of about $48,000.

Joint Strike Fighter
Although the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has had its share of bad news, a report issued during the week by the Pentagon testing office said the jet "slightly exceeded" its flight-test goals last year.

The three variants of the Lockheed Martin aircraft flew a total of 427 test sorties, 37 more than planned. The test program also accomplished 4,614 individual objectives within those flights, or 210 more than planned. Goals were met by the Air Force and Navy version, but not the Marine Corps version. (Story)

Gen. James Amos said he's confident Lockheed Martin will solve problems with the Marine Corps version of the F-35 and save it from cancelation. The short takeoff, vertical landing model of the JSF is being put on probation for two years to fix significant problems. Amos told the annual conference of the Surface Navy Association he supports that decision.

Meanwhile, four F-16s on loan from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., arrive at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., during the week. The planes from the 56th Fighter Wing will be used to support the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Training Center mission. The aircraft will be used for training prior to the arrival of the F-35s. Eglin already had 17 F-16 Falcons, 10 assigned to the 46th Test Wing and seven to the 53rd. But the training center needed its own planes.

When will the aerial tanker award be announced? Depends on what official you ask.

EADS North America Chief Executive Officer Sean O'Keefe expects it next month, but Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh said he’s not expecting the decision soon. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley declined to give a firm date for the contract award, saying only that the source selection is moving toward completion.

Boeing and EADS are competing for the $35 billion deal to build jets for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing would build them in Washington and Kansas, and EADS would assemble them in Mobile, Ala.

Nearly a month after Vision Airlines started offering service at Northwest Florida Regional Airport, sales have exceeded expectations, according to the marketing and business development director. Vision Airlines offers service to Niagara Falls, N.Y., and Miami, and plans to announce new destinations later this month.

- Florida’s Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Naval Air Station Pensacola have launched a new Web site highlighting the history of naval aviation in Pensacola. It features a list of local events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of naval aviation. Visitors can log on and share stories and photographs.

- Environmental restoration officials at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., are using a commercial car crusher to "demilitarize" practice bombs prior to recycling. So far, they've recycled more than one million pounds of metal from the BDU 33 and Mark 106 bombs. The crushing operation is part of an agreement between the crushing company, the recyclers and Eglin Air Force Base's contractors, and has resulted in savings of more than $1 million.

Unmanned systems
Northrop Grumman’s Hunter unmanned aircraft, in use with the Army since 1996, recently surpassed 100,000 flight hours in service. The MQ-5B Hunter is currently deployed supporting operations across the globe. The RQ-5A Hunter was the Army’s first fielded unmanned system. The current generation MQ-5Bs are fitted with updated equipment. The Northrop Grumman Unmanned Systems Center, Moss Point, Miss., has done refurbishing work on Hunter aircraft.

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a subsidiary of the Boeing Co. of St. Louis, Mo., was awarded an $88 million contract which will procure 3,500 guided vehicle kits for Joint Direct Attack Munition purposes. AAC/EDBK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. is the contracting activity.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Week in review (1/2 to 1/8)

When it comes to defense spending, the Gulf Coast region is all ears. And that was no doubt the case when Defense Secretary Robert Gates during the week announced some additional spending cuts.

Before I go into detail about the "efficiencies" announced by Gates, let's make it perfectly clear why Pentagon spending is so important to the Gulf Coast region. The most obvious reason is the wealth of military bases and variety of activities, but it goes well beyond that.

In Panama City, Fla., there's air dominance training at Tyndall Air Force Base and littoral warfare research at the Naval Surface Warfare Center. There's weapons development at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., pilot and flight officer training at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Whiting Field, Fla.

There's electronics training at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., including the hot field of cyber training. That cyber training and "information dominance" is also taught at Corry Station, Fla., and Hurlburt Field, Fla., which is also the home of the Air Force Special Operations Command.

In Mississippi, there's a major Air National Guard air combat training center, which uses not only the Gulf of Mexico training range, but a huge Army National Guard training complex at Camp Shelby, south of Hattiesburg.

At NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., there's the Naval Oceanographic Office and Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, which supply crucial data to warfighters in the field. And there's also special boat warfare and SEALS training done at Stennis. In Gulfport, Miss., is the home of the East Coast Seabees. For an overview on the military in South Mississippi, click here.

But the bases are just a part of the military-industrial footprint in the Gulf Coast. There are a host of defense contractors, including the big boys like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, involved in a variety of activities. Northrop Grumman builds warships in Pascagoula, Miss., and unmanned aerial vehicles in Moss Point, Miss. And Austal USA is building littoral combat ships, in Mobile, Ala.

And we also have a lot of smaller specialized contractors making crucial products for the military. Seemann Composites in Gulfport is making composite parts for Virginia-class submarines, United States Marine Inc., is building special operations boats and Avalex Technologies in Pensacola makes aircraft displays and digital mapping systems. And that's just to name a few.

On top of that, there are hundreds upon hundreds of companies from Louisiana to Florida that rely on contracts with the military to provide everything from lawn care to linen services and construction work. And did I mention the veterans and military retirees? They also care about Pentagon spending.

So it's safe to assume a lot of folks were paying attention when Gates announced a series of moves designed to save the Pentagon billions over the next five years by reducing overhead and cutting excess and troubled programs.

Now for a few details on what Gates announced.

It might be best to consider Gates' moves pre-emptive. Gates and the rest of the nation's military leadership understand that military spending, which accounts for a fifth of the federal budget, is no longer a sacred cow. A lot of players see that budget as ripe for cuts.

The military already has carried out a directive Gates issued in May to find $100 billion in savings over the next five years by trimming low-priority programs, thinning command structures and reducing Pentagon overhead. That was fine, but Gates was told by the White House to come up with additional cuts over the next five years. And he did.

Gates said he would slash the number of private military contractors by nearly a third over the next three years, maintain a freeze on civilian salaries and raise health-care premiums for military retirees and their families.

And both the Army and Marine Corps will shrink. The Army must trim the number of active duty by 27,000 and the Marines have to cut back by 15,000 to 20,000. The Army has about 569,000 soldiers and the Marines some 202,000 Marines on active duty. Gates also said he would cut the number of generals and admirals from about 900 to 800.

While some programs are being cut or revamped, others will be given more emphasis. Benefiting will be a program to build a new long-range bomber for the Air Force, ships for the Navy and a modernized Abrams for the Army.

One of the most closely watched programs is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That's of high interest to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which is the home of the JSF training center. The Air Force will buy more simulators for F-35 air crew training, shift $4.6 billion to F-35 development and reduce to 325 the number of plans that will be bought between 2012 and 2016. That's 124 fewer planes.

In addition, the Marine Corps short take-off and vertical landing variant of the F-35 is being placed on a two-year probation because of testing problems, putting the Marine variant to the back of the overall JSF production sequence.

So what will the overall impact be for the Gulf Coast region? There are so many bases, so may contractors and so many programs, it will take time to try to gauge the full impact.

Now it's time for a recap of some of the aerospace-specific stories that came down the pike during the week.

A Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-220 engine recently powered its first biofuel test flight of an Air Force F-15 Eagle at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. This flight test, powered by alternative jet fuel, comes on the heels of engine ground testing earlier this year at Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee.

The Air Force's goal is to acquire half of its domestic jet fuel requirements from alternate sources by 2016. This is Pratt and Whitney's second military engine to successfully complete ground and flight tests using biofuels. A C-17 Globemaster III powered by four Pratt and Whitney F117 engines completed testing in August.

- NASA has set Dec. 14 as the target launch date for Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Commercial Orbital Transportation System cargo demonstration mission. The company says it continues to make progress toward attaining safety clearance for the mission, in which its Cygnus spacecraft will dock with the International Space Station.

Tests of the Aerojet AJ26 engine that will power the first stage also continue at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., where engineers are preparing for a third hot-fire test of the engine following earlier runs in November and December. "Every month we'll be bringing another AJ26 through Stennis," said Carl Walz, Orbital's vice president of human spaceflight operations.

- Pratt and Whitney's F135 engine used in the vertical take-off and landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter passed a testing milestone known as initial service release. That means the engine is now certified as the production configuration. The company received initial service release for the conventional take off and landing/carrier variant (CTOL/CV) in February 2010. The Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the F-35 will be used by the Marine Corps.

Pensacola, Fla., is celebrating a century of naval aviation, with a kickoff and party slated for Jan. 20 at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Other activities during the year include Aviation Week in May with the arrival of the USS Iwo Jima and a special performance by the Blue Angels flight demonstration team. The Blue Angels will also perform at Pensacola Beach in July.

- The Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration team arrived early last week at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., the team's winter training facility. The team is based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., but does its winter training in California. That training wraps up in mid-March. The team will perform in more than 37 shows this year, with the season ending in Pensacola Nov. 12.

- The National Flight Academy received a $1.7 million grant buy 42 flight simulators. The grant is from the Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust. The $26.5 million flight academy is being built next to the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. The academy is designed to interest young people in science, technology, engineering and math careers, including aerospace.

Louisiana's chief economic development official told the Press Club in Baton Rouge during the week that several entities are interested in locating at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. But Stephen Moret declined to name names. Michoud is NASA's huge manufacturing facility that built the external tanks for the Space Shuttle. At its height it had 5,000 workers, but now has 1,000 as Lockheed Martin ends its shuttle work. "We will attract thousands of private-sector jobs," said Moret, secretary of the Department of Economic Development. Turbine-maker Blade Dynamics announced last year it would set up shop at Michoud.

EADS North American Defense, Arlington, Va., was awarded a $52.5 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide for 12 UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters, 12 Airborne Radio Communication systems and two Engine Inlet Barrier Filters. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of April 30, 2012.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Week in review (12/26 to 1/1)

While this column highlights aerospace-related news from the Gulf Coast region, it's hard not to discuss a significant non-aerospace related story that occurred during the week. I'm talking about the awarding of major contracts to Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., and Lockheed Martin to build littoral combat ships.

The contracts are significant on several levels: First, the Austal contract affirms the key role of the Gulf Coast in building the nation's warships. Second, the split contract not only points out that a major contract can be shared by two competitors - think aerial tanker - but it also underscores the significant role being played by companies with roots overseas. In this case, the companies have roots in Australia and Italy.

OK, here are the details. The two contracts are to build a total of 20 littoral combat ships. Each company uses a design unique to its vessel, but the missions are the same and each sports a modular capability. That means it can be fitted to suit the needs of the mission. Ten of the ships will be built by Lockheed Martin and 10 by Austal USA.

For Austal, the fiscal 2010 amount is $432 million, with additional line items totaling $33.4 million for a total of $465.4 million. The contract includes line items for nine additional ships and options for post delivery support and more that would bring the cumulative value of the contract to $4.4 billion. The Lockheed ships will be built at the U.S. shipyard owned by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri.

Austal's long-term contract reinforces the importance of shipbuilding in the Gulf Coast region. In Mississippi, there's Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula making military vessels, and Trinity Yachts making pleasure boats in Gulfport. Also in Gulfport, there’s United States Marine Inc. making boats for special operations, and Seemann Composites making composite parts for Navy subs.

What’s fascinating at Austal USA is that it's a relative newcomer, yet it's already one of the largest employers in Mobile. All of this goes to show how important it is to ensure the Gulf Coast region continues to supply the workers to fill these positions. The nation's defense depends on it.

As if to underscore the importance of Gulf Coast shipbuilding, Northrop Grumman in Pascagoula was awarded during the week a $12 million modification to previously awarded contract related to the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer. The modification provides government-furnished workshare transportation efforts for the procurement of material required for the fabrication of cradles, fixtures, and other equipment necessary to transport class products from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Pascagoula and Gulfport to Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

OK. Enough about ships. Back to aerospace.

During the week, a training jet out of Florida's Naval Air Station Pensacola crashed during a training flight, but both people aboard safely ejected. The T-45 Goshawk jet from Training Squadron 86 went down in a swamp about 20 miles east of Tallahassee, Fla. The Navy is investigating the cause of the crash.

Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd., said that Guggenheim Aviation Partners LLC selected the firm's aerospace division to convert a Boeing 757-200 from a passenger plane to a passenger-cargo combination in Singapore. As part of the work, ST Aerospace will acquire new certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union that would clear the way for ST Aerospace to do similar work for other airlines at any of its facilities, including the 1,200-employee Mobile operation.

NASA awarded a 10-year contract to HP Enterprise Services of Herndon, Va., for agency consolidated end-user services, or ACES, with a maximum value of $2.5 billion and four-year base period with two three-year option periods. The contract will be managed at the NASA Shared Services Center at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The ACES contract will develop a long-term outsourcing arrangement with the commercial sector to provide and manage most of NASA's personal computing hardware, software, mobile information technology services, peripherals and accessories, associated end-user services, and supporting infrastructure. HP Enterprise Services will provide, manage, secure and maintain these essential IT services for the agency.

The NSSC is a partnership among NASA, Computer Sciences Corp. and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. The NSSC performs selected business activities for all 10 NASA centers.

Unmanned systems
Reports out of Japan indicate that government is considering using Global Hawks for surveillance. Japan reportedly will send a team to the United States to see how they are used and what might be involved. That could potentially be good news for workers in Moss Point, Miss. Workers there do fuselage work on Global Hawks.

There were at least two reports during the week highlighting questionable spending. Both were based on an inspector general's Dec. 23 audit report. In one, Bloomberg reported that Northrop Grumman was paid at least $206,000 by Navy contracts officials for questionable travel billings to a golf outing and international air shows. The company subsequently reduced billing by that amount. In the other, NextGov reported that the Navy did not validate invoices that Northrop Grumman submitted for development of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft. The Navy and Air Force both use the same Global Hawk airframe, but the report said that Navy did not establish with the Air Force a complete property-sharing agreement.

Raytheon Co., Goleta, Calif., was awarded a $7.8 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement for the retrofit and testing of 33 countermeasure receivers to digital countermeasure receivers in support of the F/A-18 E/F. Work will be performed in Forest, Miss. (65 percent), and Goleta, Calif. (35 percent), and is expected to be completed in February 2013.