Saturday, June 11, 2011

Week in review (6/5 to 6/11)

There were reports during the week that Air Force testers found the Global Hawk Block 20/30 unmanned aerial system unable to completely and reliably perform the imagery and signals intelligence collection missions for which it's designed.

That information comes from the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation report resulting from tests conducted last October through December. Those reports usually consider a system either effective or not effective, but not this one. Maj. Gen. David Eichorn, who heads the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center in New Mexico, told Aviation Week he was more comfortable with the "shade of gray" in this case because Global Hawk provides valuable service, but doesn't do some things well. (Story)

The Hill called the report "scathing," saying the report found that the drones provided only about 40 percent of "requested intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage when used at low operational tempos." But that story also pointed out that Predator/Reaper UAV faced serious criticism from testers early on and is now considered very effective. (Story)

George Guerra, vice president for High Altitude Long Endurance programs for Northrop aerospace systems, said that since the report the company has worked with the Air Force to make improvements. The Pentagon weapons test report provided "an assessment of the system at a snapshot in time which was at the end of last year," Guerra told Reuters. "Since then, we've incorporated some of those improvements and we saw that the system performed quite well over Japan and Libya.” (Story)

Fuselage work for the Global Hawk is done in Moss Point, Miss., at the Unmanned Systems Center.

An Aerojet AJ26 engine, the propulsion system for one of NASA's commercial space-cargo haulers, shut down early in a test firing at the Stennis Space Center, Miss. The test was done Thursday on the E-1 Test Stand.

The AJ26 is the main engine for Orbital Science Corp.'s Taurus 2 rocket, which will launch the company's Cygnus capsule for commercial resupply missions to the international space station. Orbital and Aerojet are investigating the cause, and Stennis will perform checkouts to the facility to ensure its operational integrity. Three AJ26 have been successfully test fired to date.

- The launch of the 135th and final space shuttle mission, now slated for July 8, will mean the elimination of most of the 300 remaining Michoud Assembly Facility jobs connected to work on the project's external tanks. But the announcement two weeks ago that NASA is moving forward with the Orion project means continued space-related work at Michoud, though a small fraction of the numbers employed for the space shuttle program, according to a story in the New Orleans Times Picayune. (Story)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics says it's days away from sending Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the first of 59 Joint Strike Fighters. That's according to Mike Rein, a spokesman for the company, who thinks it will happen this month, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Six jets are slated for delivery by the end of the fiscal year, Rein said. Eglin is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center. The first pilots who will train on the F-35 will be instructors. (Story)

Lockheed Martin's Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) tri-mode seeker successfully acquired and tracked multiple moving maritime vessels during recent high-speed, captive flight tests. The tests were in the Gulf of Mexico off the shore of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., against multiple maritime targets, including a Revenge Advanced Composites (RAC), low-signature, high-speed patrol craft.

The RAC performed a series of evasive maneuvers against the JAGM mounted in the nose section of a Sabreliner Series 60 jet aircraft. JAGM is the next-generation air-to-surface guided missile that is being competed as the replacement for the currently fielded Airborne TOW, Maverick and HELLFIRE missiles for the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Tidbits from other fields
Shipbuilding: Arkansas-based Taber Extrusions will build components for a littoral combat ship and joint high-speed vessel built by Mobile's Austal USA. The work will be done at Taber’s two manufacturing facilities, one in Gulfport, Miss., the other in Russellville, Ark. Austal will use Taber extrusions for decking, superstructure and bulkheads. … A union is getting a third shot to enlist workers at Austal USA’s Mobile River shipyard, and an election could come as soon as late July, according to a lawyer representing Local 441 of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association.

Marine science: The Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System - Regional Association of College Station Texas will receive a Gulf Guardian Award for 2011 in the partnership category. The awards ceremony will be in conjunction with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Meeting Aug. 3 in New Orleans.