Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week in review (10/22 to 10/29)

The arrival of a sixth F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., a drone-in-a-drone weapons program involving Eglin, the opening of a new fixed base operation at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi airport and a concourse expansion in New Orleans, as well as a military technology conference in Panama City, Fla., were some of the aerospace and defense related news stories of interest to the Gulf Coast during the week.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where pilots of all the variants of the F-35 will be trained, received its sixth F-35 during the week. AF-13, a conventional takeoff and landing variant, arrived after a 90-minute flight from Fort Worth, Texas.

The jet, piloted by Marine Corps Maj. Joseph Bachmann, was delivered to the 33d Fighter Wing and will be used for pilot and maintainer training at the base's F-35 Integrated Training Center. The week before the base's fifth F-35 was delivered to the base.

- Marine Corps F-35B short-takeoff, vertical-landing variants of the jet will begin to arrive at the base in the late half of November and early part of December, according to Air Force Times. (Story)

- In another F-35 related item, the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp returned to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia just over a week ago after spending three weeks at sea hosting the initial sea trials of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

The first F-35B landed on WASP's flight deck early this month, beginning an 18-day test period. During the testing, two F-35B Marine Corps test jets performed vertical landings and short take-offs under various conditions. The STOVL variant logged more than 28 hours of flight time and completed 72 short take-offs and 72 vertical landings, according to the Navy.

Researchers from the Naval Air Systems Command, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and Navmar Applied Science Corp. are working on a micro-UAV designed to be carried in another drone. That's according to a report by InsideDefense.

The armed, electric drone would detach from a 13-foot TigerShark and relay real-time video to ground support as it heads for the target. Researchers at Eglin were working on the micro-UAV as part of the Precision Acquisition and Weaponized System when the U.S. Special Operations Command said it needed a weapon that would minimize collateral damage.

NAVAIR started working on the effort to integrate the micro-UAV with the TigerShark surveillance drone. A $12 million design and assembly effort is supposed to be done in the spring of 2012. After that comes testing at Eglin and at the Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona. (Story)

- Aircrews from the 37th Bomb Squadron employed two Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles from a pair of B-1 bombers at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., as part of the Air Force's air to ground Weapon System Evaluation Program known as Combat Hammer.

The goal of the Oct. 25 exercise, managed by the 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is to evaluate the effectiveness, maintainability, suitability, and accuracy of precision guided munitions and other advanced air to ground weapons.

According to Aviation Week, NASA will store some rocket engines, slow work on others and study still more as it tries to fit the Space Launch System into a $3 billion annual budget for development.

Early flights of the SLS will use surplus space shuttle main engines and, as side-mounted strap-ons, the five-segment solid-fuel motors developed for the terminated Ares I crew launch vehicle's first stage.

The J-2X upper-stage engine will be slowed as managers try to maintain enough development momentum to avoid a costly stop and restart in engine development as the big new rocket evolves. (Story)

- NASA says its industry partners continue to meet established milestones in developing commercial crew transportation capabilities that will ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station. That's according to NASA's third status report.

NASA will rely on private industry to transport cargo and crew to the International Space Station, while NASA focuses on deep space exploration. NASA has posted the third status report on its Commercial Crew Development 2 (CCDev2) program to the agency's Commercial Space Transportation website.

Stennis Space Center, Miss., is where space shuttle main engines were tested and where the J-2X is being assembled and tested. Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is where portions of the SLS will be built.

- The U.S. Senate earlier this month approved a resolution sponsored by senators from Mississippi and Louisiana honoring the 50th anniversary of the John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., and its economic impact on the region.

The testing facility in Hancock County was established in 1961 and today is home to more than 30 federal organizations, including the biggest tenant, the Navy. It will continue to play a role as the test site for NASA programs and commercial ventures.

- CSC has received a $41 million modification that exercises the second option period for the NASA Shared Services Center contract at Stennis Space Center, Miss. The contract modification applies to the contract NASA awarded CSC in 2005.

CSC will continue to provide financial management, human resources, procurement and information technology support services to NASA. The NSSC is a cooperative partnership between NASA, CSC and the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. The NSSC performs selected business activities for all 10 NASA centers.

The 96th Air Base Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., received good news about the  Operational Readiness Inspection. The ORI by the Air Force Material Command was the culmination of more than six months of preparation in four major graded areas.

The units were scored using a five-tier rating scale. The ratings in specific areas cannot be released, but the wing received overall results of excellent for positioning the force, employing the force, sustaining the force and the ability to survive and operate. Col. Sal Nodjomian, commander of the wing, said the inspectors reported they have never seen a wing sweep every graded category.

- The Air Force as a landlord? Perhaps that will be the case sometime next year.

Under an "enhanced lease program" designed to let the Air Force collect rent on an under-used portion of beachfront land, the military next year will become landlord of a hotel.

"This will be a new way of doing business for us," said Glenn Wagner, manager of Eglin Air Force Base's enhanced lease program, told the Northwest Florida Daily News. The $24 million hotel near Sheraton Four Points will be owned by the Department of Defense and managed by Emerald Breeze Resort Group.

Eglin's 46th Test Wing will be able to place a telemetric receiving dish and optical equipment on the top of the building so it can "see" further out into the Gulf of Mexico. (Story)

The $12 million, 52,500-square-foot Million Air facility officially opened at Mississippi's Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport during the week. It will serve as the fixed base operation at the airport, providing fuel, support services for charters and private planes and other services.

Company and airport officials expect the operation to boost the revenue base at the airport and the region by more than $10 million with fuel and activity fees and increase the casino customer base by up to 25 percent. (Story)

New Orleans' airport unveiled the expansion to Concourse D during the week. The $27 million expansion at Louis Armstrong International Airport includes six new gates and a pyramid-shaped central skylight. (Story)

With one exception, airports in Northwest Florida experienced higher passenger counts this September over the previous year. The busiest airport was Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, with 121,409 passengers in September, up .73 percent, followed by Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City, with 73,470 passengers in September, up 8.1 percent.

The airport in Okaloosa County, Northwest Florida Regional Airport, had 66,258 passengers in September, an increase of 10.4 percent. Tallahassee Regional Airport had 50,025, a 5.2 percent drop. (Story)

L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace LLC
, Madison, Miss., was awarded a  $26.3 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price 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. … Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Northrop Grumman Information Systems, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $119.7 million contract for the design, development, test, and deployment of Increment 10.2, modernization of the Air and Space Operations Center Weapon System. Increment 10.2 capabilities will be fielded to the Geographic Air and Space Operations Centers; a help desk at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; and the Formal Training Unit at Hurlburt Field, Fla. … L3 Communications Corp., Systems Field Support, Madison, Miss., was awarded a $21.3 million contract modification for contractor logistics support for the C-12 aircraft for Pacific Air Forces, Air Force Materiel Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Defense Security Cooperation Agency, consisting of maintenance, repair, and support functions for one year from Nov. 1, 2011, through Oct. 31, 2012. … Gulfport Aviation Partners LLC, Houston, Texas, was awarded a fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract for a maximum $6.6 million for jet fuel. Other location of performance is Gulfport Biloxi International Airport, Gulfport, Miss. Using service is Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and federal civilian agencies. … The Boeing Co., Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded an $11.1 million contract for spares and will provide five major subassemblies required to build-up six AC-130U 25 mm ammunition storage handling systems assemblies.

From other fields
Technology: The 16th annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference was held during the week in Panama City, Fla., at the Wyndham Bay Point Resort. The theme of the four-day conference was integrating future and present capabilities. The News Herald’s story focused on the Panama City mine roller developed by the Navy in Bay County. Brian Detter, the deputy assistant director of the Navy for Expeditionary Programs and Logistics Management, touted the mine roller as a piece of equipment that military personnel are using with great success in Afghanistan. (Story)
Shipbuilding: The biggest ship ever built in Alabama is in the water. BAE Systems Southeast Shipyard launched American Phoenix, a 616-foot-long chemical tanker, into Mobile River from the company's Pinto Island facility. Work is continuing on the tanker, which should be delivered to Mid-Ocean Tanker Co. of Connecticut in 2012. (Story)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Week in review (10/16 to 10/21)

The past week was highlighted by news about the F-35, including the arrival of another F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and installation of a weapons loading training device, news that two Gulf Coast bases are now competing for the best in the Air Force honors, the decision by Northrop Grumman to opt out of next year's Farnborough air show, the formal opening of a Lockheed Martin tech center in Mississippi and more.

A fifth F-35 has arrived at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to be used to train pilots and maintainers at the Joint Strike Fighter training center. The plane, an Air Force variant, arrived on Thursday after a 90-minute flight from Fort Worth, Texas.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin also delivered and installed the first weapons load training device at the F-35 Integrated Pilot-and-Maintenance Training Center at Eglin. Configured in all three variants of the F-35, the system allows maintenance students to hone their skills loading munitions, fuel tanks and missile systems onto the aircraft.

The simulators enable training to take place without removing aircraft from the flight schedule. Earlier this year the first two F-35 full mission simulators were installed. The ITC at Eglin will be home to the latest courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators and flight events.

- The F-35B, the Marine Corps variant of the F-35, conducted short take-off and vertical landing tests aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp during the week. The demonstration was conducted by the JSF program office and Marine Corps. According to press reports, BF-04 flew a series of short take-off and vertical landings off the Virginia coast in front of a group of reporters.

Fifteen Space Shuttle Main Engines at NASA's Engine Shop at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., are being prepped for shipment to Stennis Space Center, Miss. At SSC, they'll become part of the propulsion used on NASA's next generation heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System.

The engines are built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, and each is 14 feet long and more than 7 feet in diameter at the end of its nozzle. In addition to testing the SLS engines at SSC, NASA will have portions of the SLS fabricated at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

In a move that underscores tight budgets, aerospace powerhouse Northrop Grumman Corp. had decided not to participate in the 2012 international air show in Farnborough, England, according to Reuters.

Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said pulling out completely will save millions of dollars. Northrop Grumman is just one of the big defense contractors with operations along the Gulf Coast. Among other things, it builds portions of the Fire Scout and Global Hawk at the Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss.

Lockheed Martin held a ceremonial opening during the week for its new 33,000 square-foot technology support center at South Pointe Business Park in Clinton, near Jackson, Miss. Lockheed Martin announced in April that it planned to create 350 new jobs at the center.

The mission support center will serve several of Lockheed Martin's federal customers. The center is in part of the former corporate headquarters of WorldCom, the telecommunications company that went into bankruptcy in 2002. In this region, Lockheed Martin assembles satellite components at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Two bases in the Gulf Coast region will be among those competing for the Air Force 2011 Commander-in-Chief's Installation Excellence Award. The Air Education and Training Command selected Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., as its nominee. Earlier, the Air Force Material Command picked Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is its nominee.

The winner, chosen in January, will get a $1 million prize and the runner-up $500,000 for quality of life improvements. Each of the 10 finalists from Air Force major commands will be visited by an inspection team.

- Two dozen helicopters during the week visited Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Fla., for the base's annual Naval Helicopter Association Fleet Fly-in. The event is designed to let student aviators learn about potential career paths.

- The Air Force says three bases, Davis Monthan in Arizona., Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Shaw in South Carolina, are candidate bases for one active duty Air Force MQ-1/9 remote split operations squadron.

They are candidates for a single active duty MQ-1/9 RSO squadron of 280 personnel and associated equipment. No remotely piloted aircraft will be assigned to the base, only a ground control station. Hurlburt Field, Fla., in August was chosen as the preferred alternative for the Air Force Reserve Command MQ-1 remote split-operations squadron, consisting of 140 personnel and associated equipment.

Jacobs Technology Inc., Tullahoma, Tenn., was awarded an estimated $135.5 million contract for the Technical and Engineering Acquisition Support Program, providing a wide range of engineering, technical, and acquisition support required for development, production, and sustainment of various munitions systems within the Air Armament Center and other organizations at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. This effort supports Foreign Military Sales programs to 19 foreign governmens. Air Armament Center/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.

Tidbits from other fields
: The Mobile Press-Register reported during the week that a Congressional Research Service report indicates that the Navy plans to reduce by more than half – from 21 to 10 – the number of joint high-speed vessels it buys. The transport vessels are built at Austal USA's Mobile River shipyard in Alabama. … Also during the week, the Press-Register reported that Rear Adm. James Murdoch, head of the Littoral Combat Ship program office, said he's "very confident" in the designs of the two ships built for the Navy. The ships are being slightly reconfigured to avoid corrosion problems that have arisen in recent months, but the cost of making these changes will be insignificant, he said. Austal USA is being 10 aluminum, tri-hull versions of the ship. … House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., toured Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., during the week. The Mississippi Press reports that McKeon said that it's difficult to conceive what the military will look like if the defense budget is slashed beyond the $465 billion in cuts already in the works.
Education: The curriculum for the Navy-sponsored academic outreach, "Mission Ocean," will be presented at the 2011 Mississippi Science Teacher's Association Conference at the Marriott Hotel in Jackson, Miss., Oct. 23-25. The curriculum is being offered in association with the December 2011 christening of the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Mississippi, which is scheduled for commissioning in Gulfport, Miss., in 2012. The submarine-related science curriculum for 6th and 7th grade students will be available beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The curriculum focuses on science activities and missions in a simulated submarine control room.
Science centers: Proposals are being sought to operate a full-service restaurant at the Infinity Science Center at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss. Written proposals are due by Nov. 9, and a selection will be made Dec. 8, 2011. Proposals must have the requisite demonstrated competence and experience and a knowledge of restaurant, baker, deli and catering operations, including financing, marketing, design, leasing, management and oversight. Infinity is located next to the Welcome Center on Interstate 10, near the Mississippi and Louisiana state line.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Week in review (10/9 to 10/15)

For a region that relies so much on defense activities, these are uncertain times. The Gulf Coast is packed with bases from every military branch, doing everything from training to surveying the world's oceans to developing weapons systems and more. Thousands of contractors big and small rely on the military as a customer, whether it's the local base that needs lawn service or a major defense program crucial to the nation's security.

Like it or not, cuts are coming, and nothing is immune.

In a speech last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that in this fiscal environment, every program, contract and facility will be scrutinized, with an eye towards ensuring the cuts won't reduce readiness or impact essential missions. He said it's important to maintain a robust industrial, science and technology base so the United States can maintain its edge, according to Defense News. (Story)

The Boston Globe recently wrote that defense lobbyists are packing a potential weapon in the battle to save their industry: a warning that more cuts to the Pentagon budget will cost jobs. They recognize that it's jobs, not defense or terrorism, that most concerns Americans.

"Make no mistake, combining the cuts that have already occurred and the potential for more cuts defense cuts … hundreds of thousands of American workers' jobs are at risk," said Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association. The group launched a public relations campaign last month to pursued Congress not to cut the Pentagon further. (Story)

There are many Pentagon programs of high interest in the Gulf Coast region. Building warships is a major part of the economy in South Mississippi, South Alabama and for now Southeast Louisiana. The DoD in its annual industrial report to Congress last month said that while U.S. shipbuilders produce the most capable warships in the world, the number of Navy ships being built each year is very low when compared to the number of ships being produced each year by the leading international shipyards. The low volume of production makes it extremely difficult for U.S. shipyards to match the improvements in technology and productivity seen in the international shipyards.

Further cuts here can only make that problem more pronounced, one can only assume.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is also of a major program that's of high interest to this region. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the initial training center for all three variants of the stealth aircraft, and that program will have a big impact on the Northwest Florida economy. But the program is over budget, and cuts could come, notably a possible decision to drop the Marine Corps variant.

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., reminded Panetta that the Office of Management and Budget's 2013 guidelines was to identify programs that provided the best opportunity of economic growth, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. The F-35 offered 127,000 direct and indirect jobs. And when the training school reaches full strength in 2014, the wing would employ 2,000 military personnel and 260 contractors, according to Miller. (Story)

While nothing is immune, there are some programs that seem destined to do well. Panetta and others have singled out cybersecurity as a major area of concern. The thinking is, it's likely more will be spent despite defense cuts. Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., is where the Air Force provides initial training to cyber warriors, and there's an effort to create a Navy cyber battle lab in Pensacola, Fla., which already does training in the field.

Robotic system also should continue to do well as the military and non-military users turn more and more to unmanned systems. The recent DoD industrial capabilities report notes that it's a field filled with smaller, innovative firms that are doing a lot of critical research and development work, which in itself helps satisfy a requirement that the country maintain its technological edge. Unmanned aerial systems are built in Moss Point, Miss., and Pensacola is home of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, a big researcher in the field.

We're already feeling the impact here. The Navy next year will eliminate one Seabee battalion in Gulfport, Miss., and the head of weapons development at Eglin has warned that there will be less money for developing new weapons.

There's little doubt every community in this region with military-related activities is paying close attention to the Pentagon’s belt-tightening. Some likely are more concerned more than others. The AIA is taking the right approach. Like it or not, it will all boil down to jobs.

Cyber security
As I mentioned above, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is already the home of the Air Force's electronics training, including the key growth field of cyber security. Now efforts are under way in Florida to establish a prototype cyber warfare battle lab at the Navy’s Corry Station in Pensacola.

The state of Florida approved eight grants totaling $1.03 billion to be used by a variety of groups in Northwest Florida to protect and improve military assets. Two of those grants totaling $300,000 are going to the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce to enhance Corry's Center for Information Dominance and help the chamber's efforts to retain and create jobs. One is a defense reinvestment grant of $100,000, and the other is a defense infrastructure grant of $200,000.

Another group, TEAM Santa Rosa, will get two grants totaling $257,726, one to be used for land acquisition near Naval Air Station Whiting Field. A third group, the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, is getting two grants totaling $287,500 for projects related to Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field and Duke Fields, and the Bay County Board of County Commissioners and Bay Defense Alliance will get $93,519 and $87,500, respectively, for projects associated with the Naval Support Activity and Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City.

BAE Systems was selected by Lockheed Martin to supply a Night Vision Goggle Helmet Mounted Display (NVG HMD) system for the F-35 during the next phase of its development.

The NVG HMD will incorporate the latest Q-SIGHT waveguide display and feature detachable Night Vision Goggles for night operations. It will also incorporate an optical Head Tracking System for precise weapons delivery and carrier and land-based operations.

BAE Systems will begin delivery of test assets in 2012 to support the F-35 development and integration laboratories, flight simulators, and flight-test platforms. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center. BAE Systems has operations in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., and Gautier, Miss.

Propulsion systems
Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney announce an agreement to form a new partnership to
power future mid-size aircraft. The two companies will establish a joint venture company, in which each will hold an equal share, to develop new engines for the next generation of aircraft that will replace the existing mid-size fleet.

The prediction is a need for nearly 45,000 engines over the next 20 years.

Both of those companies have a major presence in the Gulf Coast region. Rolls Royce tests jet engines at Stennis Space Center, Miss. Rolls-Royce Marine also has a foundry in Pascagoula that makes huge ship propellers. Pratt & Whitney assembles and tests rocket engines at Stennis Space Center. Pratt & Whitney is part of United Technologies, which is buying Goodrich Corp., including its Alabama Service Center is in Foley, Ala.

GE Aviation is building a composites parts center near Hattiesburg, Miss.

- Speaking of propulsion systems, Continental Motors in Mobile, Ala., was chosen during the week by Germany's Flight Design to provide engines for its new four-seat airplane.

Continental, located at Brookley Aeroplex, hopes to sell engines for 50 of the planes in 2013, when production begins. That's projected to grow to 100 engines in 2014 and 200 in 2015. Continental's six-cylinder IO-360-AF engine will burn traditional leaded aviation gas as well as unleaded fuel. Earlier this year, China's AVIC International Holding Corp. bought Continental from Teledyne Technologies.

Advanced materials
Wind energy will overtake aerospace as the largest user of advanced composite materials,  according to a research report. The overall market for advanced composites, based on  carbon fibers, carbon nanotubes, and grapheme, will more than triple to $25.8 billion by 2020, according to a report by Lux Research. In 2020, wind energy will account for nearly 60 percent of the market for composites, compared to the current 35 percent.

This region is heavily involved in composites work. The Gulf Coast is home to the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, which has an international reputation for its research into advanced materials. Southern Miss has been working with GE Aviation to manufacture composite jet engine parts at the still-to-be-built plant near Hattiesburg.

Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans was approved to join a select group of U.S. airports that can fly to and from Cuba. The U.S. government has loosened restrictions, allowing New Orleans and other international airports in the United States to apply to host flights. New Orleans and seven other airports were approved.

Travel is restricted to those with close relatives in Cuba, or those involved in the medical or agricultural business sectors. Travel for educational or religious activities is also permitted. The longstanding U.S.-imposed trade embargo and travel restrictions were designed to pressure the communist nation to move toward democracy.

- Delta Air Lines is eliminating direct flights to Memphis from Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi, Mobile Regional Airport in Alabama and Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City, beginning Jan. 4. But in Gulfport, US Airways is adding a flight to Charlotte, N.C.

- UPS will close a sorting operation at Brookley Aeroplex in Mobile, Ala., and move the hub to Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport in Pensacola, Fla. Pensacola officials said the new sorting facility will create 30 jobs and open Oct. 31. UPS competitor FedEx still has a regional operation at Brookley.

The first Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) military communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Navy has successfully completed a major end-to-end system test, validating satellite performance and functionality with user ground terminals.

Completion of this key milestone confirms the system meets requirements and allows the  satellite to proceed to final factory test activities prior to launch. MUOS will augment and  replace the Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Follow-On system (UFO) providing communications, including simultaneous voice, video and data, for mobile warfighters.

Work on the propulsion system for the MUOS, an A2100 satellite-based spacecraft, is done at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Tidbits from other fields
Armored vehicles
: Textron Marine & Land Systems will refurbish 392 Army M1117 Armored Security Vehicles under a $19.8 million award. The program, which could expand with the exercise of two option years, is designed to reverse the effects of combat stress on the ASVs. The program’s objective is to return these ASVs to fully mission-capable, combat-ready assets, regardless of their current condition. Work will be performed at Textron Marine & Land Systems in New Orleans.
Shipbuilding: The Signet Constellation and the Signet Stars & Stripes were christened at Gulfport, Miss.-based Trinity Offshore during the week. Signet will use the RAstar  3100-class tugs to execute a 20-year marine transportation contract from Angola LNG  Supply Services, which supplies liquefied natural gas to Gulf LNG Energy's $1.1 billion  liquefied natural gas terminal in Pascagoula, Miss. … Mobile, Ala.-based Signal International Inc. says it’s won a contract to repair and upgrade the Henry Goodrich, a semisubmersible oil rig owned by Transocean. Work will begin at Signal's east yard in Pascagoula, Miss., and will last a little more than two months. ... Austal USA of Mobile, Ala., celebrated the beginning of fabrication for its third Joint High Speed Vessel by presenting an aluminum plaque to U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner. The company now  has three JHSVs under construction.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Week in review (10/2 to 10/8)

It was mentioned during the recent Aerospace Alliance summit in Sandestin, Fla., and now the Defense Department's newest annual report on industrial capabilities has underscored the growing problem.

The retirement of the science, technology, engineering and math workforce "could significantly impact the aerospace sector in the coming decade." The DoD's Annual Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress (September 2011) said replacing them "could be challenging due to declining interest in STEM as a career field, fewer STEM college graduates, and poor math and science proficiency in secondary education."

DoD points out that specialized skill sets, such as protected military satellite communications and intelligence payloads, "make the issue of a declining STEM workforce even more of a concern for the military space industrial base."

An estimate from 2006 said 70 percent of DoD STEM workers will be eligible to retire.

"The combined factors of low demand, reduced military spending, workforce retirements, and reduced labor pool entrants could threaten specialized skills. If lost, it could take significant cost and time to rebuild these skills for the military space industrial base," the report said.

This is hardly the first time the alarm has been raised. As far back as 2005, the National Academies' report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" warned that if this country doesn't do something to improve investments in science and technology, the United States would continue to slip against global competition. Five years later, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5," found, sadly, that we had slipped further.

If you want to give yourself a jolt, just take a look at the bullet points at the beginning of "Gathering Storm." Just focusing on some related to education, we find the United States is 48 in quality of mathematics and science education, 27 among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering, 20 in high school completion rate and 16th in college completion rate among industrialized nations.

Considering the budget crunch, the quote at the start of "Gathering Storm" from Nobel Laureate physicist Ernest Rutherford couldn't be more appropriate: "Gentlemen, we have run out of money. It is time to start thinking."

For the Gulf Coast region this may actually be an incredible opportunity if we heed the warning and single ourselves out in something that would give us competitive advantage. The Southeast, including the four-state region along the Interstate 10 corridor, is already a major aerospace player. But we've got to look to the future and understand that one of the most important things this region can do is to start thinking about those fifth-grade and sixth-grade students, and establish a foundation for their future.

We are, unfortunately, a people who want immediate results, and sometimes it simply takes time before an investment pays off. Economic development officials face this all the time. They are grilled by political leaders and the public about the jobs they've helped create, not about what they've done to invest in the future for their children and grandchildren.

A Northrop Grumman executive told me a few years ago that in California, the aerospace industry competes against all the other sectors looking for engineers. He said back then that there's no reason why those engineers and other STEM workers couldn't be cultivated in this region.

What would be a real gift to our future generations is turning this region into a hot-spot for STEM education. And it can be done. The I-10 region is moving ahead on projects designed to pique the interest of young people in science fields. The Infinity Science Center near Stennis Space Center, Miss., GulfQuest in Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola's National Flight Academy will go a long way towards doing that. Wouldn't it be amazing to have this region known for its strong STEM emphasis?

Indeed. We've run out of money, ladies and gentlemen, and it's time to start thinking.

Now for the week in review.

Speaking of running out of money, the commander of the Air Armaments Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., warned participants at the 37th Air Armament Conference during the week that there's a "big target" painted on weapons development.

According to National Defense magazine, Major Gen. Kenneth D. Merchant told the military officers, government employees and contractors attending the Fort Walton Beach conference that while the projected cuts for fiscal year 2012 are relatively small, weapons programs can expect to take a disproportionate share of hits compared to personnel and operations accounts.

"It's not looking good," Merchant said. "The next few years are going to be very lean."

The Air Armaments Center oversees the development, procurement and testing of all Air Force air-delivered weapons.

OK, all you folks who ever thought about being an astronaut. Here's your chance.

Early next month NASA will seek applicants for its next class of astronaut candidates who will support long-duration missions to the International Space Station and future deep space exploration activities.

"For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps," said Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. "This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA's continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit."

A bachelor's degree in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience are required. Typically, successful applicants have significant qualifications in engineering or science, or extensive experience flying high-performance jet-aircraft. Additional information about the Astronaut Candidate Program is available by calling the Astronaut Selection Office at 281-483-5907.

Getting excited about the opening of Infinity Science Center near Stennis Space Center, Miss., and wondering when it's going to finally launch? Well the building will be finished in October, but it will be a while before all the money is raised to pay for the exhibits. But you can take it in early next year.

A restaurant and initial exhibit showcasing earth and space science will open at Infinity in early 2012, according to the Sun Herald.

Infinity Science Center, expected to cost $42 million, is at Exit 2 of Interstate 10, south of the entrance to NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. It will be both a state-of-the-art science center and a major visitor attraction.

A Marine F-35B marked a first when it made a safe vertical landing on the deck of the USS Wasp (LHD 1), according to the Navy. The first vertical landing is part of the initial ship trials for the F-35B, which started early in the week and is expected to last two weeks.

The tests will collect data on the aircraft's ability to perform short take-offs and vertical landings on a ship at sea, as well as determine how the aircraft integrates with the ship's landing systems, and deck and hangar operations. This test period will also collect environmental data on the deck through added instrumentation to measure the F-35B's impact to flight deck operations.

The F-35B is the variant of the Joint Strike Fighter capable of short take-offs and vertical landings for use on amphibious ships or expeditionary airfields. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the Joint Strike Fighter training center.

Two T-38 Talon jets from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., arrived at Tyndall late in the week, according to the Panama City News Herald. They are the first of 20 of the twin-engine jets slated to arrive and used to aid in the training of F-22 pilots. An estimated 100 jobs will be brought to Tyndall because of the T-38s arrival.

The T-38 is a high-altitude supersonic jet trainer used by the Texas-based Air Education and Training Command. At Tyndall, instead of using F-22s, F-15s or F-16s to simulate an enemy fighter, the Air Force will use the T-38 at a fraction of the cost.

The Air Force will eventually replace the T-38 and companies are jockeying for position to compete. See my column from last week and go down to the item under "Economic development" to learn more about the trainer competition.

- The FBI held a week-long post-blast school at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., late last month, according the Eglin officials. The Large Vehicle Bomb Post Blast School was attended by more than 50 state and local law enforcement officers as well as Navy and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Crime scene investigators from 18 U.S. agencies participated.

There were four explosions, creating distinct "crime scenes" that included a roadside bomb. It was the 128th post-blast school class held by the FBI and only the second at Eglin. The class was dedicated to Tech. Sgt. Daniel Douville, an Eglin EOD technician who fell in the line of duty in June.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Week in review (9/25 to 10/1)

When it came to aerospace news for the Gulf Coast during the week, there was just about something for everyone. Fascinated with space? Then word that portions of NASA's heavy-lift rocket will be built at Michoud Assembly Facility or the ongoing series of rocket engine tests at Stennis Space Center likely drew your attention. Military aviation? It looks like F-35s will take to the air at Eglin Air Force Base later this month, and a Navy darling – the Fire Scout – flew for the first time using biofuel. Economic development? Then the hint that Lake Charles, La., might build jet trainers would have interested you. One publication mentioned Mobile, Ala., as a possible build site for those trainers, while another quoted a senator as saying Airbus is looking at Mobile to build commercial jetliners.

One more thing. If you’re interested in dollar figures, some $644.7 million in DoD contracts with some ties to the Gulf Coast were awarded. OK, here's the rundown.

When it comes to significant, it was pretty hard to top the news that came from Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that NASA has chosen Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to build components of its new heavy-lift rocket. Vitter released a statement late in the week saying the decision is "big big news for southeast Louisiana."

Indeed, hundreds of jobs, perhaps a couple thousand, would come from that work. And that's good news for a facility that began seeing jobs disappear as the Space Shuttle program drew to a close.

For anyone closely following the space program, it really wasn't much of a surprise that Michoud would be chosen. Michoud was picked by NASA to build portions of the now-defunct Constellation program, and the same factors that prompted that decision hold true for the Space Launch System. It's a huge facility, 43 acres under one roof.

NASA plans to build several components at Michoud, including manufacturing core stage and upper stage, the instrument ring and integrating engines with core and upper stages, according to Vitter's release.

Meanwhile, some 40 miles away from Michoud at NASA's Stennis Space Center, Miss., testing continues on engines that will be used not only by the SLS, but by private companies that are taking over the low-Earth orbit missions from NASA.

NASA conducted a 40-second test of the J-2X rocket engine, the most recent in a series of tests of the next-generation engine chosen as part of the Space Launch System. It was a test at the 99 percent power level to gain a better understanding of start and shutdown systems as well as modifications that had been made from previous test firing results.

The test came two weeks after NASA announced plans for the new SLS to be powered by core-stage RS-25 D/E and upper-stage J-2X engines. The liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen J-2X is being developed for NASA by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which has a major facility at SSC.

On the commercial side of the equation, engineers at SSC during the week conducted a test of an Aerojet AJ26 flight engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp's Taurus II space launch vehicle. Orbital will provide cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services research and development initiative.

The test on the E-1 Test Stand was performed by a team of Orbital, Aerojet and Stennis engineers. Data from the test will be reviewed and verified before the engine is delivered to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for installation on the Taurus II rocket's first-stage core.

- While on the topic of NASA, the agency is restructuring its contracting program as the agency's missions change. Contractors are anticipating a new initiative worth millions over nearly 10 years. The initiative, known as the Test and Operations Support Contract, covers ground systems work now being done by Boeing and the United Space Alliance.

The new program would provide NASA with services related to managing the ground systems used for flight launches, such as maintaining equipment, overseeing landings and performing simulations and experiments.

Economic development
OK, fans of the tanker competition. Here's another competition to keep your eye on. It hasn't officially started yet, but teams are being formed to compete for building the jet trainer that will replace the Air Force's T-38.

Aviation Week had a good overview of the posturing that's going on. Many foreign companies are expected to compete, and it's likely they'll insource manufacturing jobs to the United States. Think tanker, think arguements about American versus foreign, U.S. jobs versus foreign jobs. That message sunk in, no doubt.

BAE announced that Northrop Grumman will be its U.S. manufacturing lead for its Hawk-based candidate. Although both companies are keeping quiet about where the Hawk would be built, Aviation Week reports that Northrop has been hoping to secure work for its Lake Charles, La., plant.

BAE Systems is making an early pitch. Two UK Royal Air Force Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers will demonstrate their capabilities at U.S. Air Force bases nationwide, according to BAE Systems Inc. The company is offering the Hawk AJTS. The Navy for some time now has been using a Hawk. The T-45 Goshawk is a variant of the Hawk 60. But the BAE/Northrop team won’t be alone in this fight.

Alenia Aeronautica is still talking to potential partners, including Northrop, Boeing, Raytheon and L-3 Communications, and Jacksonville, Fla., is considered a potential site. And then there's the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries team and its T-50-based proposal. That site might be Lockheed's facility in Marietta, Ga. Mobile, Ala., is another option, according to Aviation Week.

OK, the above item is a good lead-in for this item. EADS is looking into whether it's feasible to build commercial airplanes in Mobile, Ala. That's according to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. In an interview with the Birmingham News after a symposium address, Shelby said that while EADS didn't win the competition against Boeing to build tankers for the Air Force, a loss that ended EADS' plans to put an assembly plant in Mobile, the senator said EADS's Airbus may end up building commercial airplanes in Mobile.

"They're looking to see if it's feasible," Shelby said. Shelby was a participant at a symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hosted by GE Aviation, which is building an engine coatings plant in Auburn. GE Aviation also has an engine components plant in Batesville, Miss., and is building another one near Hattiesburg in South Mississippi.

- Speaking of GE Aviation, the Ohio-based company is marking 40 years in the commercial aviation business and feeling good about the future, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. The company landed orders for more than $27 billion in engines and services at the Paris Air Show in June, and GE Aviation is ramping up production.

It added 1,000 jobs across its U.S. manufacturing operations over the past three years and plans to add another 1,000 over the next three years. That includes 200 jobs in Dayton, Ohio, 400 new jobs at two component plants in Mississippi and 400 more across its 20 U.S. operating plants. One of the Mississippi plants is in Ellisville, near Hattiesburg.

The F-35s at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., could be flying next month, according to Aviation Week. F-35 program officials are awaiting a clearance from the procurement community to begin flight operations at Eglin, a step closer to pilot training.

The Air Force is reviewing data collected during a period of "maturity flights" using two conventional-takeoff-and-landing F-35As at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Tom Burbage, executive vice president of F-35 integration at Lockheed Martin, says he hopes to have the first F-35 flying at Eglin by Oct. 31. The F-35As at Eglin right now are supporting maintenance training.

Unmanned systems
The Navy reached a milestone in its quest to gain energy independence during the week when an MQ-8B Fire Scout, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., successfully flew the first unmanned biofueled flight.

The Fire Scout, tested in Maryland, was fueled with a combination of JP-5 aviation fuel and plant-based camelina. The biofuel blend reduces carbon dioxide output by 75 percent when compared to conventional aviation fuel.

The unmanned helicopter provides situational awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting data to forward deployed warfighter, and can operate from all air capable ships and is currently providing ISR support during its first-land based deployment in U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Fire Scout is the seventh aircraft to demonstrate the versatility of biofuel through its use in all facets of naval aviation.

For the second year in a row, Air Force Materiel Command selected Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., for the Commander-in-Chief's 2012 Annual Award for Installation Excellence. Eglin will compete against other command winners for the Air Force level award. Each finalist base will be visited by an inspection team next year. The winner is traditionally announced in April.

- A long-time member of Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., has closed its doors. The Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory closed Sept. 2 and moved to new facilities at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. The move of the lab, which employed 65, was dictated by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005. Wright-Patterson is headquarters of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

During the week, L-3 Vertex Aerospace of Madison, Miss., was a huge winner, landing four contracts. It was awarded a $139 million contract modification for logistics support for the T -1A aircraft at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and several Air Force bases. It was also awarded a $123 million modification for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot-level maintenance required to support 36 T-45A, and 168 T-45C, aircraft based at Naval Air Station Pensacola, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Kingsville, Texas, and NAS Patuxent River, Md. In addition, the company was awarded a $23.5 million contract for contractor logistics support and Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department support for the T-39 Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Training Program. This also provides intermediate level maintenance and support for Chief of Naval Air Training aircraft, transient aircraft, tenant, and other services activities at the NAS Pensacola and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. Finally, L-3 was also awarded an $11.3 million modification for trainer maintenance at Sheppard Air Force-Base, Texas, and satellite site at NAS Pensacola, Fla. … Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $187 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract, providing additional funding for recurring sustainment support, and system engineering sustainment activities necessary to meet the requirement and delivery schedule of this low rate initial production, lot five, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Much of the work, 60 percent, will be performed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. … Rolls-Royce Defense Services Inc., Indianapolis, Ind., was awarded a $99.9 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for intermediate and depot-level maintenance and related support for in-service T-45 F405-RR-401 Adour engines under the power-by-the-hour arrangement. In addition, this modification provides for inventory control, sustaining engineering and configuration management, as well as integrated logistics support and required engineering elements necessary to support the F405-RR-401 engine at the organization level. Work will be performed at the NAS Kingsville, Texas, NAS Meridian, Miss., NAS Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Patuxent River, Md. … Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $49.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot level maintenance to support 273 T-34, 54 T-44 and 62 T-6 aircraft based primarily at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, NAS Whiting Field, Fla. and NAS Pensacola, Fla. Work will be performed in Corpus Christi, Whiting Field and Pensacola … Amherst Systems Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., was awarded an $11.4 million contract to provide sustaining engineering services support on government-owned B-1, B-2, B-52, and fighter test facilities' threat simulations. AAC/PKES, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity.