Saturday, April 16, 2011

Week in review (4/10 to 4/16)

Several weapons programs of interest to the Gulf Coast region were among those that had noteworthy cost increases. According to the Defense Department, the cost of 95 major weapons programs rose $64 billion or 4 percent to a total of $1.72 trillion in 2010, compared with an assessment the previous year.

The cost increases were included in the Selected Acquisition Reports sent to Congress and posted on the Defense Department's website. For this reporting period, there are seven programs with critical or significant Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breaches.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's cost overruns have been widely publicized, most recently in a report to Congress in January. That program is of interest to this region because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the JSF training center.

Another program with a higher procurement cost is the Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. The average cost for the Northrop Grumman aircraft, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., rose more than 25 percent. It was blamed on the changing mix of aircraft to a larger percentage of the pricier model as well as a slow-down on planned purchases – from five to three a year for FY 2012-14 and five to one per year for FY 2015-16.

Other programs of interest to the Gulf Coast with cost increases include the DDG 51 program, due to an increase in purchases, the littoral combat ship, where previous costs were in large part developmental, and the LHA class ship, due primarily to an additional ship purchase.

Two satellite programs with ties to the Gulf Coast also had cost increases. Air Force's Advanced Extremely High Frequency program increased 8.6 percent due to revised procurement estimate to fully fund the fifth and sixth satellites and an extension of interim contract support due to the launch delay of the first satellite. In addition, the Space-Based Infrared System High program cost increased 16.3 percent to fully fund the first and sixth Geosynchronous Earth Orbit satellites.

Both satellite systems use the A2100 propulsion core, made in part at the Lockheed Martin Space and Technology Center at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

In other aerospace news items of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week:

The new A-3 Test Stand being built at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., reached a milestone during the week with the placement of the test cell dome atop the stand. It's known as the "topping out." NASA broke ground in 2007 for the new stand, which is being built to provide simulated high-altitude testing for next-generation rocket engines that will carry humans into deep space. The stand will use a series of chemical steam generators to create a vacuum that allows operators to test full-scale engines at simulated altitudes up to 100,000 feet.

The A-3 stand, scheduled for activation in 2013, is the first large test structure to be built at Stennis since the facility was established in the early 1960s to test the Saturn V rocket stages that helped carry Apollo astronauts to the moon.

- Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr., offered additional assurances that his agency intends to complete construction of test stands at Stennis Space Center. Cochran, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned Bolden during a Senate subcommittee hearing early in the week to review the FY2012 budget request for NASA.

Cochran sought Bolden's views on the future of NASA's test stands and its development of 130-ton heavy lift vehicle in light of the funding uncertainties for the remainder of FY2011, as well as FY2012.

"The 2012 budget that I have put forth will support the continued development of our testing capability at Stennis. We intend to complete the construction of the A-3 test stand. I think, as you are probably very well aware, Stennis has become rejuvenated and reinvigorated," said Bolden, citing recent rocket tests and the increased testing capabilities that will be offered with a completed A-3 test stand.

Unmanned systems
The Northrop Grumman-built MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter marked a new single-day flight record of 18 hours. Navy operators achieved the record using a single aircraft in a series of endurance flights in late February from the USS Halyburton.

Fire Scout is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to support anti-piracy missions while deployed on the ship for the Navy's 5th Fleet. Last April Fire Scout concluded a military utility assessment on board the USS McInerney, a frigate similar to the Halyburton. Fire Scout has flown twice as much in the first two months on the Halyburton than the entire McInerney deployment.

The system also completed initial flight tests on board the littoral combat ship USS Freedom in November. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

Aviation Days
The first of what officials hope to become an annual Aviation Days festival started Friday at the Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores, Ala., and ends Saturday. The event offered children and adults the chance to take the controls of an aircraft in flight, ride in a 1928 biplane, observe 35 different planes, including a "Hurricane Hunter" from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

Pall Corp., which makes filtration, separation and purification systems, was awarded an Army contract to supply its Centrisep engine advanced protection system for 59 Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Centrisep is designed to protect CH-47 helicopter engines from particle erosion by continuously separating dust and sand from inlet air. This order is valued at about $14 million. Shipments will begin in December 2011 and be completed by November 2012. Pall has an operation in Pensacola, Fla.

Tidbits from other fields
Marine science: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists during the week began examining sea grasses growing within the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to identify any damage done by vessels deploying protective boom in response to last year's BP oil spill. … Edward Gough Jr., the deputy director of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis Space Center, Miss., is leaving to take a job with NATO in Italy. … Eric Schwaab, a NOAA Fisheries official told reporters in Pascagoula, Miss., during the week that "not one piece of tainted seafood has entered the market" related to the April 2010 BP oil spill. … The Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs, Miss., hosted an Earth Day celebration Saturday.

Shipbuilding: BAE Systems will provide the external communications and primary gun systems for 10 littoral combat ships to be built by Austal USA of Mobile, Ala. BAE, which runs a shipyard in Mobile, will do the work in California, Maryland, Kentucky, Minnesota and Sweden. BAE Systems also has operations in Gautier, Miss., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.