Saturday, November 26, 2011

Week in review (11/20 to 11/26)

NASA's interest in getting a commercial company to lease a test stand at Stennis Space Center; a successful test of a satellite made in part in Mississippi; the super committee's failure to cut the deficit; fears that Boeing may pull out of a state that supported it in the tanker competition; the delivery of bunker-buster bombs that a Florida base helped create; and the roll-out of the first international F-35 were among the aerospace stories of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

One of the more significant events during the week for the Gulf Coast aerospace region occurred rather quietly through a NASA notice of availability/request for information. It was the first tentative step that could bring a new aerospace player, or expand the operation of one that's already in this region.

NASA is seeking to identify industry interest in Stennis Space Center's underutilized E-4 Test Facility, part of the E-Complex at the massive Mississippi center. Originally designed to conduct ground tests of propulsion systems in support of NASA's Rocket Based Combined Cycle Program (RBCC), the E-4 Test Facility was partially built but never completed, and no further development is planned due to program cancelation.

NASA wants to know if any commercial companies are interested in leasing the facility or partnering with NASA. This isn't a first for Stennis Space Center (SSC). NASA's H-1 Test Complex, used to test hybrid rocket motors, is now the Rolls-Royce Outdoor Test Facility, with a 150,000 lbf stand used to test the Trent series of Rolls-Royce airliner engines.

The E-4 stand consists of concrete-walled test cells and associated hard stand, a high-bay work area with a bridge crane and adjacent work area, control room space and personnel offices. The facility was designed to provide low-pressure hydrocarbon fuel (JP-7) and oxidizer (LOX) to test articles having a thrust in the horizontal plane up to 50,000 lbf maximum.

But NASA envisioned the growth of test capabilities at the stand to meet future RBCC or other propulsion testing requirements, including the possible incorporation of other fuels and oxidizer to support testing of power packs and engine systems, and the addition of a Ram Air test capability up to Mach 0.8 to support the testing of power packs and engine systems up to 500,000 lbf thrust.

Depending on interest, a site visit will be conducted on Jan. 12, 2012.

The announcement points out that the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 directs the agency to proceed with development of a new Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System, and that means NASA has to "re-scope" its facilities to support the missions within expected funding levels.

"SSC capabilities and assets that will become idle or underutilized for near-term NASA requirements may be re-purposed and used by the commercial space industry and others in direct support of NASA's mission and purpose," the announcement says.

Priority will be given to users that support space exploration for the U.S. government or those that are involved in commercial space launch or commercial space user missions, whether or not the U.S. government is a customer.

It's too early to tell just how significant this may wind up being. But here's something to consider. In October Boeing announced it will use Kennedy Space Center's Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to manufacture, assemble, and test the company's Crew Space Transportation spacecraft. The 15-year use permit with Space Florida is part of Kennedy's moves to transitions from a government-only launch complex to a multi-user spaceport.

On one level, it's sad to see NASA ridding itself of some facilities as the agency transitions. But on the other hand, it's a lease, not a sale. And let's face it. What's being offered is valuable stuff, and one heck of a lure for a commercial company.

The E-4 stand could be seen as yet another lure by a facility that has proven in the past its ability to leverage assets. It was back at the end of one NASA program that SSC began attracting other government operations, and there are 30 now, along with commercial companies.

It's not much of a stretch to picture a commercial company involved in propulsion taking advantage of this opportunity. It likely will be a company that is also aware that 40 miles away NASA owns one of the biggest manufacturing facilities in the world, 43 acres under one roof at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

We'll keep an eye on this one.

- The military’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellite, launched in August 2010, has now undergone a key test. Raytheon Co. became the first to successfully test the AEHF, designed to replace the old Milstar communications system.

Raytheon's Army Secure Mobile Anti-jam Reliable Tactical Terminal is the first operationally fielded terminal to interoperate with an on-orbit AEHF satellite. Raytheon will deliver 364 AEHF SMART-T terminals to the U.S. armed services.

The AEHF is a joint service satellite communications system that provides secure communications for high-priority military ground, sea and air assets. It's based on Lockheed Martin's award-winning A2100, whose core propulsion module is build at the Lockheed Martin Space and Technology Center at SSC.

- NASA awarded Excalibur Associates Inc. of Alexandria, Va., a contract to provide protective services at Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans. The contract begins Jan. 1, 2012, with a nine-month base period, followed by option periods. Excalibur will provide support for physical and personnel security, technology protection and emergency management and training, according to PRNewswire.

- Finally, we can't leave the topic of space without noting that NASA's Curiosity rover took off Saturday aboard an Atlas V for its nine-month trip to Mars. The nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory is as big as a car and has a laser beam for smashing rocks and a tool kit for analyzing their contents. It carries a robotic arm, a drill, and a set of 10 science instruments. Sensors will let it report back on the weather and radiation levels in the atmosphere, important for NASA as it devises future human exploration missions.

Prepare yourself for ongoing stories about Pentagon belt-tightening. During the week the special congressional super committee failed to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, triggering automatic, massive military cuts in 2013 if Congress doesn't do something.

"If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation's defense," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said they are working on a plan to minimize the impact of the sequester on DoD "to ensure that any cuts do not leave us with a hollow military."

This whole issue, of course, is of high interest to the Gulf Coast region, which has bases along the Interstate 10 corridor from Louisiana to Florida. Newspapers and broadcasters are trying to figure out what might happen to their own piece of the military-industrial complex. Good luck with that one. There are so many variables, but at the heart of it all is money. With the Pentagon making cuts, defense companies are looking for ways to trim their costs.

One company's cost-cutting efforts has really shaken up the good folks of Kansas. Boeing said it may shut down a military-aircraft plant in Wichita because its work is winding down. About 2,100 people work for Boeing in Wichita, modifying and upgrading military aircraft.

The reaction of politicians and the unions was predictable and understandable. Kansas was one of the states that lined up behind Boeing in the competition against EADS to build Air Force tankers. Workers were told they would militarize the Boeing 767s in Kansas. Now they hear there's a chance they may never do that work.

This goes to show you have to be careful with the proverbial chicken-counting. Just ask Mobile, Ala., which started celebrating when the Air Force initially picked EADS to build the planes. That fell apart in a new competition and Boeing ended up winning the contest. Now Wichita, like Mobile before it, might find it celebrated too soon.

Another cutback story that got wide distribution was an AP piece about the Pensacola-based Blue Angels naval flight demonstration team. The story pointed out that the Blue Angels, Air Force Thunderbirds and Army Golden Knights parachute team may wind up on the chopping block. The story noted that funding for the Blue Angels is small, $37 million of the Pentagon's annual budget of $926 billion. Still, enough smaller programs and you're eventually talking serious money.

My guess, and that's all it is, is that we won't see the end of the Blue Angels. But it is instructive to note that the team, created after World War II, was disbanded for a time during the Korean War and team members joined the fight. The team was recommissioned in 1951.

The Blue Angels have been around more than six decades, and during a show season some 11 million people watch them perform. There was even a half-hour television series about the team that aired from 1960 to 1961. A clip of one of the shows, this one about the team breaking up and going into combat in Korea, can be seen online. It's from the archives of the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

The Pentagon has taken delivery of huge bunker-busting bombs designed to penetrate deep to reach underground facilities. Boeing delivered 20 of the Massive Ordnance Penetrators to the Air Force. Each GPS-guided penetrator is 20 feet long, weighs 30,000 pounds and carries a 5,300-pound payload.

The explosive power of a MOP is 10 times that of its predecessor, the BLU-109. The Air Force began taking delivery of the bombs, which can be carried in a B-2, in September, according to multiple reports.

Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been involved in developing and deploying the MOP. You can track the progress of this weapon by looking at these previous posts: contract; contract; contract; Bunker buster deployment nears; Pentagon eyes bunker buster speedup. If you're interested in an even older story, you can go into the archives and find the story from May 2006 headlined "Mother of All Bombs gets big relative."

The Center for Information Dominance stood up two new commands Nov. 14. The request for the new commands, the Center for Information Dominance Unit (CIDU) Corry Station in Pensacola, Fla., and CIDU Monterey, Calif., was approved by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus Oct. 31.

The new commands are in response to the "expanded size of the detachment and assigned cyber training mission." Annually, CID Unit Corry Station trains about 9,000 Navy and Joint Cryptologists, Information Systems Technicians and Information Warfare and Information Professional officers, while CID Unit Monterey, Calif., trains about 1,200 Cryptologic Technicians and Foreign Language Officers.

In remarks during the stand-up ceremony at Corry Station, CID Commanding Officer Capt. Susan K. Cerovsky compared the shore-based commands to that of a newly-commissioned ship.

With a staff of nearly 1,300 military, civilian and contracted staff members, CID Corry Station oversees the development and administration of more than 168 courses at four commands, two detachments and 16 learning sites throughout the United States and in Japan. CID Corry Station provides training for about 24,000 members of the U.S. Armed Services and allied forces each year.

Lockheed Martin passed its 2011 flight-test targets for the F-35, with aircraft now flying at a pace that will allow the company to exceed its target for a significantly higher number of flights in 2012, according to Aviation Week.

The test program completed its 875th flight for the year on Nov. 17, passing the full-year target of 872. A total of 6,809 test points were accumulated on those flights, exceeding the year-end target of 6,622. Training on the F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has yet to begin.

- The first international Lockheed Martin F-35 has rolled out of the factory in Fort Worth, Texas. The United Kingdom will use the short takeoff/vertical landing jet, known as BK-1, for training and operational tests.

BK-1 will undergo functional fuel system checks before being transported to the flight line for ground and flight tests in the coming months. The jet is scheduled to be delivered in 2012, according to Lockheed Martin.

In Florida, Okaloosa County commissioners approved the use of a $250,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to get a runway improvement project started at Destin Airport. Okaloosa County Airports Director Greg Donovan said he estimates the cost of refurbishing the 5,000-foot runway and improving the lighting and navigational signage will be about $4 million. The Federal Aviation Administration will be lobbied for money from the agency's aviation trust fund to pay for the remainder of the runway replacement, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

- Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City, Fla., will launch a new website that Airport Authority board members hope will strengthen the region's brand. The new site, to be online in December, is a complete redesign and will contain a feature that allows site visitors to track on a map in real time a plane’s position, according to the Walton Sun.

- Total passenger traffic in October at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near Panama City, Fla., rose about 4 percent from October 2010, continuing an upward trend of since the airport moved from the Panama City field on May 23, 2010. Traffic totaled 77,389 for October this year, compared to 74,372 in October 2010, according to the Panama City News Herald.

Lockheed Martin Corp., Baltimore, Md., was awarded an $11.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for MK 41 Vertical Launching System ordnance alteration kits, production support material, interim support parts, and equipment in support of DDG 51 class new construction, Aegis modernization programs, and Aegis ashore programs. The MK 41 VLS provides a missile launching system for CG 47 and DDG 51 class surface combatants of the Navy, surface combatants of allied navies, and Aegis ashore requirements for Missile Defense Agency's Ground Ballistic Missile Defense Program. Fort Walton Beach, Fla., will do 18.8 percent of the work for this contract. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

- Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $51.3 million modification to previously awarded contract for life cycle engineering and support services for Landing Platform Dock 17 class integrated shipboard electronic systems. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Miss., and is expected to be completed by December 2012. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

- The Navy is working with the U.S. Maritime Administration to permit the transfer of two high-speed superferries into naval service. The Maritime Administration took over the two Hawaiian superferries, Alakai and Huakai, both built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., in July 2009 after a bankruptcy judge ruled that the owner could abandon them to lenders. The administration, which guaranteed the loans, moved them to Norfolk, Va., and eventually bought them. Built to move cars and people, the ferries can cruise at 35 knots and carry 836 passengers and 282 cars, according to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

- The Office of Naval Research has released the latest update to the Naval Science and Technology Strategic Plan. It reflects future naval requirements, including a new emphasis on autonomous systems.

"Our superiority at sea demands that we maintain superiority in science, engineering and technology," said Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. Key areas of difference between the 2011 biannual plan and the 2009 version include a new emphasis on accelerating insertion of mature technologies to the fleet and consolidating 13 science and technology focus areas into nine, including the new category of Autonomy and Unmanned Systems.

It also places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives aimed at increasing the talent pool of future naval scientists and engineers. ONR provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps' technological advantage, according to NNS. The region is involved in unmanned systems and is also home to a Naval Research Lab detachment at Stennis Space Center, Miss.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Week in review (11/13 to 11/19)

Another test of a commercial rocket engine in Mississippi; moves by the Navy to buy land so it can extend runways at outlying fields in Alabama; reaction of businesses to an Air Force plan to build a hotel along a Florida beach; and a warning from the Defense Secretary that more cuts could hurt shipbuilding and the F-35 program highlighted Gulf Coast aerospace and defense news during the week. In addition, there were ample indications that the world's aerospace industry is continuing to grow.

Industry growth
It's a golden opportunity for this region.

Boeing and Airbus both expect a huge demand for passenger and cargo aircraft in the Middle East over the next 20 years. Boeing sees Middle East airlines needing some 2,520 airplanes worth $450 billion by 2030. The Airbus Global Market Forecast says the Middle East will need 1,921 new passenger and freighter by 2030 with a value of $347.4 billion.

The same market forecast by Airbus also said Latin America will require 2,028 new passenger aircraft of more than 100 seats between now and 2030, including 1,653 single-aisle, 334 twin-aisle and 41 very large aircraft with an estimated value of $197 billion.

Those are significant numbers, and it means a ramp-up of production for airframes and all the associated equipment, from engines to landing gear and more. While in the past this would have meant more work in the traditional aviation centers, today it means more work to spread around to a lot of locations. Boeing saw that increasing demand and hopes to open a 787 line in South Carolina.

A fact of life in the global aerospace industry is that locations worldwide play a role in the production of aircraft, with suppliers near and far sending components to the facility where the plane is actually assembled. That's the case with the Boeing 787 and the military's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This increasing global demand for next-generation commercial aircraft means new facilities likely will have to be built. Just look at what GE Aviation is doing. It has a new plant in Batesville, Miss., and is now building two more facilities, one in Hattiesburg, Miss., and another in Auburn, Ala.

But for any region, the Holy Grail of the aerospace industry is landing an assembly facility. Economic development leaders in the region know that, and that's why there was such a big effort to back EADS' bid to build Air Force tankers in Mobile, Ala. Landing the plant would have been a watershed event for the Gulf Coast, likely supercharging the growth of the region.

As pointed out by Site Selection magazine, new markets are emerging as centers of aircraft production. Airbus opened its joint venture A320 facility in 2008 in Tianjin, China, where production of the airliner is ramping up to meet demand in China and the rest of Southeast Asia. There's every reason to believe Mobile could eventually resurface as a location for an assembly plant.

Interesting to note is that in the past, another location in the Gulf Coast region, this one near Stennis Space Center, Miss., also has been a finalist at least twice in the past in competition for a large aircraft assembly plants. Imagine, if you will, two aircraft assembly plants.

We've been told the aerospace industry didn't suffer as much as many industries in the recession, and that growth is in the cards. Speakers at the Aerospace Alliance Summit in Sandestin, Fla., in September pointed that out, and said the region has to get ready, notably in making sure it has the workers. An Airbus official said there would be a worldwide demand for 26,000 new commercial aircraft, and an official from GE Aviation pointed out that the company is opening new facilities in Mississippi and Alabama because of the backlog and expected growth.

The Dubai Air Show during the week underscores that prediction of growth.

The United Arab Emirates ordered 50 aircraft powered by two GE90-115B engines. GE Aviation officials said the order will have an impact on multiple GE Aviation operations nationwide, including the 258-worker GE Aviation plant in Batesville, Miss., who manufacture composite engine parts -- fan stator, acoustic panels and fan platforms -- for the GE90. GE Aviation is also building a composite engine parts facility in Hattiesburg, Miss., and Auburn, Ala.

Because of increased demand, the Goodrich Aerostructures plant in Foley, Ala., hosted a job fair over Saturday to find workers to construct housing for Airbus engines. Baldwin County’s largest industrial employer, with 800 employees at the site, Goodrich is looking to hire 40 workers who have experience in heavy construction, automotive, sheet metal or heating/air conditioning. The Mobile Press-Register reports that in the apprenticeship, workers would learn to construct a nacelle, the cover housing that encases the engine for the Airbus A320. The new jobs came about because of increased demand.

And one more indicator came through ECN Magazine during the week. It reported that North Eastern Aeronautical Company Inc., NEANY, plans to open a new office in Niceville, Fla. The research, design, test and evaluation firm specializes in unmanned aerial systems, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, sensors and electro-optics. It also has offices in Patuxent River, Md., Arlington, Va., and Scottsdale, Ariz.

"With Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases, the Pensacola Naval Air Station, and numerous universities all located in the panhandle, I believe the area is a perfect fit for NEANY," said company president Steven Steptoe.

Engineers at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center , Miss., conducted a test firing on an Aerojet AJ26 flight engine late in the week at the E-1 Test Stand. Orbital Sciences Corp. is testing the engines for commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station. (Post)

AJ26 engines will be used to power Orbital's Taurus II rocket. Orbital is part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract. After the engines are tested, inspected and the test data is reviewed, the engines are shipped to the Wallops Flight Facility launch site in Virginia for installation on the Taurus II rocket.

- NASA is one of the best places to work in the federal government, according to a survey
released during the week. NASA, which has operations at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is ranked No. 5 among 308 federal agencies.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden acknowledge Stennis Space Center, ranked second overall among the federal organizations. "I'm particularly proud that Stennis was ranked first in the government for employee empowerment, fairness and support for diversity," Bolden said.

The Departments of the Navy, Army and Air Force -- which have bases scattered throughout the Gulf Coast -- are ranked 15, 16 and 18, respectively. The survey was done by Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization. (Post)

- U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank became during the week the first American to fly to the International Space Station since the retirement of space shuttle fleet. Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin launched Sunday (Monday Kazakhstan time) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA is paying the Russian Federal Space Agency $1.5 billion to fly U.S. and partner nation astronauts while waiting for U.S. commercial companies to begin round-trip supply missions, likely no earlier than 2016. (Post)

Military cuts
Two military programs of high interest to the Gulf Coast, shipbuilding and the F-35, could be at risk with additional defense cuts, according to a report by Bloomberg. In a letter to Sens. John McCain Lindsey Graham, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said reductions beyond the $450 billion, 10-year defense budget cuts already planned would reduce the size of the military sharply. (Post)

According to Panetta, if a special committee of lawmakers fails to reach agreement by Nov. 23 on deficit reduction, that would trigger a so-called sequestration that would involve at least another $500 billion in defense cuts over a decade and cut military programs in 2013 by 23 percent.

In the worst-case scenario, in addition to the F-35 and shipbuilding, other programs that face termination include space initiatives, silo-based nuclear missiles and ground combat vehicle modernization. The F-35 training center is at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., while Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss., and Mobile, Ala., build ships for the military.

After getting the letter, McCain, R-Ariz., and Graham, R-S.C., pointed to the dire description of the impact of further cuts as the latest evidence that up to $600 billion in automatic defense spending cuts "should not be allowed to occur." (Post)

- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is urging the congressional deficit-reduction super committee to consider closing unneeded overseas bases, rather than slashing force structure or weapons systems. Last year, the president’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission estimated that responsible overseas base closings could save taxpayers $8.5 billion through 2015.

The Navy has begun efforts to buy property needed to expand two Baldwin County, Ala., airfields to accommodate new training aircraft. Work is scheduled to start next summer to extend four runways, two at Barin Field in Foley and two at Summerdale Field, according to the Mobile Press-Register.

The runways are needed to accommodate the T-6A, which is replacing the T-34 training aircraft. The Navy operates several outlying fields in Baldwin County for training flights out of Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. (Post)

- Resort owners who will be competing against a proposed hotel on Air Force land on Okaloosa Island are raising some concerns. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, they're concerned about the bidding process, and whether other Eglin holdings on the island might end up on the market. The $24 million hotel is to be built, owned and run by the developers, though the land will remain in military hands. (Post)

Unmanned systems
The editors of Popular Science magazine selected the U.S. Navy/Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System to receive a 2011 Best of What's New award in the Aviation and Space category. The award was formally announced in the magazine's December issue.

Two tailless, autonomous X-47B unmanned aircraft are currently undergoing testing. The X-47B is designed to operate from a Navy aircraft carrier. Northrop Grumman's UCAS-D industry team includes GKN Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Pratt and Whitney, Eaton, GE, Hamilton Sundstrand, Dell, Honeywell, Goodrich, Moog, Wind River, Parker Aerospace and Rockwell Collins. (Post)

Northrop Grumman's Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., has been successfully deployed aboard Navy ships.

Science and technology
The Office of Naval Research during the week released the latest update to the Naval Science and Technology Strategic Plan. It reflects future naval requirements, including a new emphasis on autonomous systems.

"Our superiority at sea demands that we maintain superiority in science, engineering and technology," said Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

Key areas of difference between the 2011 biannual plan and the 2009 version include a new emphasis on accelerating insertion of mature technologies to the fleet and consolidation of 13 "S&T Focus Areas" into nine, including a new category, autonomy and unmanned systems.

The plan also places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives aimed at increasing the talent pool of future naval scientists and engineers. (Post)

Huntington Ingalls' sixth amphibious transport dock, San Diego, LPD 22, successfully completed its Navy acceptance trial during the week. The ship returned to Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Thursday after a two-day sea trial that included testing the ship's main propulsion, steering, communications suite and deck missions systems. Ingalls will spend the next month putting the final touches on LPD 22 before it's delivered in mid-December. (Post)

- Workers at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., late in the week received flyers outlining terms of a proposed 3-year contract extension between all unions at the Pascagoula facility and the shipyard. The extension would take the contract to March 8, 2015 and includes three wage increases and a $1,000 bonus in lieu of cost of living adjustments. Union members vote Dec. 1. (Post)

- Signal International will repair an oil rig damaged off the coast of west Africa. A crew was sent to Gabon to help transport the Hercules 185 jack-up rig across the Atlantic Ocean to the company's Pascagoula, Miss., repair yard. Signal will hire up to 300 workers over the next month or two to complete the job and others. (Post)

- VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Miss., and Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, Fla., each was chosen to build eight offshore supply vessels for Covington, La.-based Hornbeck Offshore Services. Hornbeck's contracts with the two companies for 16 vessels is valued at some $720 million. (Post)

- The keel was laid during the week for the first Zumwalt-class destroyer, DDG 1000, at General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine. The ceremonial event marks the start of the ship's construction, though work has been going on since 2009 to fabricate the ship, which is modular in design. The ship is more than 60 percent complete. Ingalls' Composites Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss., is building the DDG's deckhouses, helicopter hangars and parts of the ships' peripheral vertical launch systems. (Post)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Week in review (11/6 to 11/12)

If you read the daily news briefs about aerospace and defense activities in the Gulf Coast region, you know it was a busy week. Air Force cuts announced earlier this month are continuing to have repercussions; there was a key rocket engine test in Mississippi; space shuttle ground support gear is heading this way for storage; an airport changed its name and one base welcomed a new leader. There were also new developments in the unmanned field, including arming the Fire Scout drone helicopter and work that will be done in Panama City on underwater unmanned vehicles.

Military cuts
As local communities begin gearing up to protect their military assets, you may wonder what the Pentagon has to work with when it comes to bases. Granted, it's not as large as it used to be, but it's substantial nonetheless.

The Department of Defense manages 28.5 million acres of land worldwide, 97 percent in the United States. There are 4,127 DoD "sites" in the United States, ranging from huge bases to much smaller installations. Of those, 115 are "large" sites, each with a replacement value of at least $1.74 billion. All told, DoD has 542,208 buildings, structures and linear structures with a "plant replacement value" or PRV of $848.1 billion.

So how big is the piece in this region? If you look at the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, they have a combined 525 military sites, 16 of them large. Texas has 160 sites with a PRV of $46.2 billion, Florida has 180 sites with a PRV $26.3 billion, Alabama 89 valued at $10.5 billion, and Mississippi has 58 with a PRV of $8.2 billion, the same PRV as Louisiana's 37 sites. That's $99.4 billion for those five states.

Focus on just the slice of the Gulf Coast that this column covers – an area between New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle and going up to Dothan, Ala., and Hattiesburg, Miss. - and the mix of bases has a combined replacement value of $21.2 billion. Add outlying fields and Army National Guard assets and the figures goes to $22.3 billion.

Keep in mind, those figures reflect what it would cost the military to replace these bases using current prices and taking into consideration local costs. It doesn't count the value of the aircraft, ships, and other deployable assets. That helps explain why folks are gearing up for battle.

One likely consequence of the current budget-trimming exercise the Pentagon is conducting is a new round of base closures, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the New York Times. Panetta said priorities that could gain funding include special operations, unmanned aircraft and cyber operations. The Gulf Coast region has a dozen bases involved in a range of activities, including those priority fields. Even so, the cuts announced earlier this month are already impacting bases in this region, including Florida's Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, Tyndall Air Force Base and Mississippi's Keesler Air Force Base.

- Those announced cuts also impact Hill Air Force Base in Utah. That prompted members of Utah's congressional delegation to call for a year's delay in implementing the restructuring of the Air Force Materiel Command. According to published reports, in a Nov. 2 letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, the delegation said the Air Force failed to follow procedures, which calls for an impact analysis of changes costing more than $500 million.

The delegation is concerned about the impact on Hill. The letter was signed by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee; U.S. Reps. Jim Matheson, Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

- This region isn't just sitting around and waiting. Six people from Northwest Florida will join six other military and civic leaders from elsewhere in the state to serve on the Florida Defense Support Task Force. It has a $5 million appropriation to help fund research and advocacy for the state's bases.

The panel, created by legislation sponsored by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, will advocate for Florida's military bases and missions, including research and development, at a time of Pentagon belt-tightening and the threat of another base realignment and closure commission looming.

The defense industry reportedly is Florida's third largest job producer. In Gaetz's Northwest Florida district, base personnel and contracts tied to bases pump $14.5 billion of economic activity into the region.

- At least one local leader in the Panhandle is concerned about the future of Eglin Air Force Base. David Goetsch, an economist, college vice president and the newly sworn chairman of the Okaloosa County Economic Development Council, anticipates a future battle for Eglin's valuable, multimillion-dollar research, development, test and evaluation function. Eglin's research, development, test and evaluation is substantial, between $600 million and $700 million annually. Goetsch was named as a member of the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

- Alabama is also gearing up to protect its bases. Its new Military Stability Commission has the task of protecting that state’s military installations. There are two large sites, two medium sites and 74 small sites in Alabama.

The state legislature approved the commission last year, according to the Anniston Star. Anniston city officials are particularly concerned about a steady decline in workload at Anniston Army Depot since 2008.

At NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., during the week, the space agency conducted a highly significant 500-second test of the J-2X upper-stage rocket engine. The engine has been test fired before at SSC, but this was the first test of a duration that would occur during a space mission.

The J-2X engine is being developed by Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne and will be used on the new heavy-lift Space Launch System that will boost humans, cargo and equipment beyond low-Earth orbit. Data from the test will be analyzed as operators prepare for additional engine firings at SSC.

Stennis Space Center, which tests engines for NASA as well as commercial companies, will be heavily involved in testing and certification of both the J-2X and the RS-25D/E engines, which will be used for the SLS core stage. RS-25 was developed for the Space Shuttle program, and all of those engines were tested at Stennis Space Center. Both the J-2X and RS-25D/E use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants.

- The 266-foot-long Pegasus barge, used to transport space shuttle external tanks from Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is on its way to Stennis Space Center.

Pegasus left Kennedy manned by a crew of four and towed by NASA's space shuttle solid rocket booster recovery ship Freedom Star. It’s expected to arrive at SSC Wednesday.

The barge, built specifically for the Space Shuttle program, is carrying space shuttle main engine ground support equipment. The NASA barge and shuttle equipment will remain in storage at SSC until final disposition is determined.

The shuttle main engine ground support equipment was used at Kennedy to install shuttle engines into orbiters. The Kennedy shop where the equipment was stored is among the facilities turned over to Space Florida for future use by Boeing, which plans to use the facility to build its CST-100 commercial crew capsule.

- NASA plans to add an unmanned flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014 to its contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems for the multi-purpose crew vehicle's design, development, test and evaluation. The test supports the new Space Launch System, a program that involves both Stennis Space Center and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. Michoud will be building portions of the heavy-lift launch vehicle.

The Exploration Flight Test will fly two orbits to a high-apogee, with a high-energy re-entry through Earth's atmosphere, then make a water landing. The test mission will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

- It's not one of the better-known space-related programs in the Gulf Coast, but tucked in the woods of Eglin Air Force Base is the 20th Space Control Squadron. Its mission is to track man-made space objects, including debris. There are some 25,000 separate objects circling earth, with one re-entry into the atmosphere a week. Most burn up.

The phased array radar at Site C-6 radar, some 35 miles east of the main gate, is behind a 9-story wall and is one of the most powerful in the world. Personnel use a screen with objects assigned numbers, similar to an air traffic control screen. The site has been tracking objects in near and deep space for 40 years.

If you want to learn more about the C-6 site, or any of the Gulf Coast's space activities, take a look at Part II in Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012, a reference book. You can download the chapter, or the whole book for that matter, free of charge. Click here.

October was the busiest month yet for flight tests of all variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with 122 completed flights and significant progress on a number of fronts, Lockheed Martin late last week, according to the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth, Texas.

Overall, 837 test flights were completed this year. Both the number of individual flights and number of test points are running about 9 percent ahead of a restructured plan set out in January by the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Program Office. Eglin Air Force Base is home of the JSF training center.

A radar approach control simulator was delivered by the 81st Training Support Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., late last month for use in the 334th Training Squadron's air traffic control course. Officials say it saves costs while increasing course capacity.

The new radar approach control simulator features a touch entry display platform to replicate a real-world ATC console at a significantly lower cost, $278,000 compared to $2.1 million. The simulator, developed over 18 months by the 81st, has the look and feel of the real thing, using identical cabinetry.

- Capt. Matthew Coughlin took over from Capt. Pete Hall as commanding officer at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla. The change of command ceremony, attended by about 400 people, was Thursday at the air station near Milton. Whiting Field trains student naval aviators in the primary and intermediate phases of fixed-wing aviation and in the advanced phases of helicopter training.

- The Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show was held this weekend at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Thousands of people turned out Friday and Saturday. In addition to the flying, the show included static display of aircraft and vendor booths.

- A crew from the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Ala., last month trained with the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, called the A-Team, and the 7th Special Forces Group of Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in series of high altitude jumps from an HC-144A Ocean Sentry.

ATC Mobile requested a waiver from Coast Guard Headquarters to allow parachute jumps from the Ocean Sentry. The HC-144, based on a CN-235 transport, is a medium-range surveillance aircraft manufactured by Airbus Military.

Daytime jumps were done at Eglin and near Meridian, Miss., and night insertion jumps were done around Foley, Ala. It was all in preparation for the 7th Group's unconventional warfare exercise held between Oct. 26 and Saturday.

- The airport in Pensacola now has a new name: Pensacola International Airport. The airport, long known as Pensacola Regional Airport, changed its name a few years ago to Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport. Now it's dropped "Gulf Coast Regional" and replaced it with "international."

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward said that while the airport has no international flights, it reflects an effort to raise the profile of the city. The airport also dedicated a new terminal expansion, part of an $82 million, five-year capital improvements project.

Unmanned systems
The Navy has extended the tour of duty of the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter through most of next year. The Northrop Grumman-built system has improved ground commanders' ability to see potential threats and increase fighting effectiveness in Afghanistan, company officials said.

A team of sailors and Northrop Grumman employees began their mission in May to gather 300 hours per month of full-motion video surveillance, and deliver it in real time to ground forces.

George Vardoulakis, Northrop's vice president for tactical unmanned systems, said the team has established itself as the go-to asset for intelligence, surveillance and recon in northern Afghanistan. Fire Scouts are built in part in Moss Point, Miss.

- Northrop Grumman has started work outfitting the Navy's MQ-8B Fire Scout with a weapons system. The Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System laser-guided 70mm rocket will allow ship commanders to identify and engage hostile targets without calling in other aircraft for support.

With delivery set for March 2013, Fire Scout will be Navy's first sea-based unmanned system to carry weapons. Arming them became an obvious alternative after one Fire Scout was shot down while on a mission over Libya. The new Fire Scouts will be able to fight back.

- General Dynamics Advanced Informational Systems has been awarded a Navy contract to design and build the Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Underwater Vehicle system. The development and manufacturing will be done in Panama City, Fla., Greensboro, N.C., Fairfax, Va., and Quincy and Braintree, Mass.

The system will initially be a part of the Littoral Combat Ship Mine Warfare mission package. The $86.7 million contract awarded by the Naval Sea Systems Command calls for one Engineering Development Model and five low-rate initial production systems if all options are exercised. The system will be able to identify mines in high-clutter underwater environments in a single pass. It also will gather environmental data that can provide intelligence support for other mine warfare systems.

A lot of folks in this region are interested in the topic of underwater unmanned systems. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, Naval Oceanographic Office and a Naval Research Lab detachment at Stennis Space Center, Miss., are all involved in the field. The folks in Mobile, Ala., will also care about this. Austal USA is building a version of the LCS.

Aviation park
Florida’s Santa Rosa County is $12 million away from an aviation park near Naval Air Station Whiting Field. The county commission received the master plan for the 269-acre Whiting Aviation Park this week from the architect. In an arrangement with the Navy, tenants would be able to use Whiting's 6,000-foot south air field. TEAM Santa Rosa, the economic development group of the county, thinks the $12 million, which would be used for infrastructure, could be covered by grants. The county began buying land for the park in 2001.

Pentagon researchers plan to bolster their efforts to create offensive weapons for cyber warfare, U.S. officials said. "Malicious cyber attacks ... are a real threat to our physical systems, including our military systems," Regina Dugan, director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, told a conference.

"To this end, in the coming years we will focus an increasing portion of our cyber research on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs," she said. Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., is a cyber security training center; Corry Station in Pensacola, Fla., is home of the Navy's Center for Information Dominance.

Singapore Technologies Engineering Inc., which employs more than 3,000 in South Alabama and Mississippi through its aerospace and marine subsidiaries, boosted third quarter profit this year despite a decline in sales.

ST Engineering owns ST Aerospace Mobile, Ala., at Brookley Aeroplex and VT Halter Marine shipyards in Mississippi's Pascagoula, Moss Point and Escatawpa.

ST Engineering earned profit of $105 million in the three months that ended Sept. 30, up from a year ago. That came despite overall revenue falling 6 percent in the quarter. The aerospace division saw revenue fall about 4 percent, but operating profit rose 18 percent.

- Ground was broken Tuesday for the new ITT Exelis facility at the VentureCrossing Enterprise Centre in Bay County, Fla.. The 105,000-square-foot facility will be used by the company's mine defense systems work.

The event was hosted by St. Joe Co., which is developing the 75,000-acre mixed use business park near the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. The park will include office, industrial, manufacturing, hotel, retail and residential uses.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who attended the event, said the project is important to Florida because of its strong ties to the defense industry. Last month, ITT Corp. spun off its defense and information solutions business. ITT Exelis currently has about 100 employees in the Panama City area.

- BAE Systems plans to close its commercial aircraft electronics manufacturing plant in Irving, Texas, next year, resulting in the loss of 160 jobs. The company in March 2009 began shifting much of the work done at the plant to Fort Wayne, Ind., and Mexico. BAE has surplus capacity in Fort Wayne, the company said. BAE Systems has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast, including Gautier, Miss., Mobile, Ala., and Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

From other fields
Shipbuilding: Two Mobile, Ala., shipyards will team up to repair a Navy research vessel over the next few months. BAE Systems Southeast Shipyards won a contract to repair an experimental littoral combat ship at shipyard across from downtown Mobile. BAE hired its neighboring shipyard, Austal USA, as a subcontractor to provide structural maintenance work on the aluminum vessel. … Failure to meet Navy standards for best management practices is costing Ingalls Shipyard of Pascagoula, Miss., some money, temporarily. The Navy will withhold a portion of each payment it issues on the $698 million contract for the Aegis destroyer DDG-114. The amount withheld is 5 percent of each progress payment until Ingalls makes improvements. … Assembly has begun at Austal USA on the second Joint High-Speed Vessel for the Navy. The ship will eventually be named the USNS Choctaw County, representing rural America.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week in review (10/30 to 11/5)

The news from some bases in the Gulf Coast region during the week was jarring. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., will see the closing of the Air Armament Center, and the 96th Air Base Wing is folding into the 46th Test Wing. Some 351 positions are going away.

At nearby Hurlburt Field, Fla., home of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command, 100 civilian support positions are being cut, and in Panama City, Fla., Tyndall Air Force Base expects to lose between 115 and 120 civilian positions. In Mississippi, Keesler Air Force Base, a major technical training center, 68 civilian positions are being eliminated. It was just two months ago that Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, Miss., said it would eliminate NCMB 7 in September 2012.

If you're surprised by all of this, you simply haven't been paying attention. The Pentagon has been saying for months that cuts would be coming and that priorities are shifting. This is only the first round. More changes will be coming in a few months, then beyond that as well.

And by "beyond that" I mean the possibility of another base realignment and closure round in 2017, if not earlier. And it's BRAC that's the real bone-chiller. In that process, bases are shut down and assets and operations relocated. Hundreds of installations have been closed in five BRAC rounds that began in 1989. The last one was in 2005.

The Gulf Coast region has not been immune. The Naval Aviation Depot at Naval Station Pensacola, Fla., was eliminated by BRAC 1993. The same BRAC round also got Naval Station Mobile, Ala., created during the 1980s fleet buildup. Naval Station Pascagoula, Miss., lasted until BRAC 2005.

Just this year Naval Air Station Pensacola said goodbye to the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, which moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. That move was dictated by BRAC 2005.

If you want to know just how painful a base closing can be, you don't need to look any further than Mobile, Ala., which lost Brookley Air Force Base during the 60s. It took a long time to recover, but today the city has the Brookley Aeroplex, which remains heavily involved in aviation-related activities and was the site where EADS would have built Air Force tankers had it won the contract.

This military's current streamling and the future BRAC makes me think of dodge ball – the more players that are eliminated, the better your chance of being the target of the next ball. It may be more important than ever for this region to take stock in what we have and fully understand what's crucial for the 21st century military and what's at risk. While local groups and politicians will be protecting what's in their own back yard, it would also be wise to add regional protection to the mix. That would provide a lot more political clout, where an attack on one is an attack on all, so to speak.

The military, aviation and non-aviation alike, is an $18 billion pillar of this region’s economy. The military's activities in the region are broad and involve every military branch. There's aviation training, school houses, including electronic and cyber warrior training, laboratories, land and water ranges, operational units and it's home to one of the nation’s four Air National Guard combat readiness training centers. A dozen bases in the region have aviation functions, and there are three commands. Contractors in the region were awarded $47 billion from the military between 2000 and 2010 - some of the work done here, some done outside the region.

Three bases in this region are listed by DoD as among the highest in replacement value. Eglin Air Force Base, Naval Air Station Pensacola and Keesler Air Force Base have a combined replacement value of $8.6 billion. Eglin and NAS Pensacola are among the top three in value in all of Florida, and Keesler is the most valuable in Mississippi.

But that’s no guarantee.

"I don't think anybody can call themselves BRAC-proof,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Merchant, commander of Eglin’s Air Armament Center, during his talk with reporters. And that's from a man who has been assigned to Eglin three times in his career and is quite familiar with its considerable capabilities.

What's really crucial for the long-term outlook for any base is retaining capabilities that set it apart. Eglin, home of the F-35 training center, in 2010 built a $300 million research facility called the United States Reprogramming Laboratory, designed to fine-tune the electronic warfare capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

But it's the longtime role as weapons developer and tester that really sets Eglin apart. Merchant said that even with the loss of the AAC, Eglin will remain the Center of Excellence for aerial weapons acquisition and testing.

 "I think Eglin is postured very well for the future. When you look at the growth we've had recently in terms of the 7th Special Forces group coming in, some of the other activities like the F-35 training mission … I think we're pretty well postured," he said.

He pointed out that Eglin's Armament Laboratory, part of the Air Force Research Lab, will stay on station, and that means the "science piece of the operation" will remain in place. And the 46th Test Wing is not only staying, but expanding its role. Thus, he said, "the enterprise stays the same."

In fact, Merchant's second hat at Eglin, the Air Force program executive officer for weapons, will remain and become the leadership position at what will become Eglin's Armament Directorate. And that's significant. The base spends $600 million to $700 million every year on R&D, and Merchant said the intention is to keep at around that level, though less money will be available for development.

"Eglin has a great reputation as being the center of excellence for weapons acquisition, and test, and we want to maintain that," said Merchant. "We've got to make sure that we do the right things strategically to keep our workforce strong, healthy, and that we're prepared for the requirements of the Air Force in the future, and that we're able to procure and develop and test the weapons systems that will come in the future.”

The expanding role of the 46th Test Wing, which will become the installation manager and be headed by a one-star next October, is a far cry from what was being suggested for the 46th as recently 2006. Back then the Air Force considered trimming the 46th and moving it to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Politicians got together and scuttled that, and now that seems particularly fortuitous.

So while the news about the cuts are hard to take, especially at a time when the jobless rate is high, the important lesson that needs to be taken from this is that the Gulf Coast has a military infrastructure, aerospace and non-aerospace alike, that can't be taken for granted. Leaders of this region need to take every step possible, including a regional approach, to protect what's here and, in fact, to go after what's not here. The best defense is a good offense.

And now for some other Gulf Coast aerospace-related news from the past week:

NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, Miss., this week will be test firing a J-2X rocket engine. The J-2X engines will be used by NASA's Space Launch System, which will carry the Orion spacecraft beyond Earth orbit.

Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne is developing the J-2X for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The SLS rocket engines will use a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, which will include the J-2X engine for the upper stage and RS-25D/E engines, the Space Shuttle Main Engines, for the core stage.

SSC is involved in testing both of those engines, and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans will be building some of the SLS structures.

- Boeing said early last week that it plans to consolidate its Commercial Crew program office, manufacturing and operations at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Boeing, in partnership with Space Florida, will use the Orbiter Processing Facility-3 to manufacture, assemble, and test the company's Crew Space Transportation spacecraft.

The 15-year use permit with Space Florida is the latest step Kennedy is making as the center transitions from a historically government-only launch complex to a multi-user spaceport. Boeing has multiple operations in the Gulf Coast region.

The Air Force secretary and his chief of staff have been asked to decide what to do about a disagreement over when F-35 flight training should begin at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's top official for weapons testing, thinks the fall target date should be delayed by 10 more months of development.

But Lt. Gen. Thomas Owen, who oversees aircraft development for the Air Force, and Vice Adm. David Venlet, who oversees the F-35 program, said changing plans would drive up the program's cost. It boils down to whether the kinks in the F-35 system have been worked out.

Gilmore said the JSF team at Edwards Air Force Base racked up 1,000 hours in F- 35As, but historically flight training didn't begin until 2,000 to 5,000 hours of monitored flight tests. Right now the F-35 experiences in-flight problems three times higher than it would after reaching maturity.

Six F-35s have been delivered to Eglin, which will train pilots for all F-35 variants.

- Pratt & Whitney during the week was awarded a $75 million contract for studies associated with the F135 propulsion system. That includes engineering, programmatic, and logistics tasks related to the Joint Strike Fighter F135 propulsion system.

Among other things, the company will look into the feasibility, practicality, desirability, or supportability of design changes for the propulsion system, support equipment, and government furnished property; operational readiness and reliability; cost and weight reductions; logistics site surveys; training system analysis; modeling and simulation activities; campaign analysis; and the determination of the feasibility of integrating changes for purchaser-unique requirements.

The Transportation Security Administration started using its new Advance Imaging Technology machines during the week at Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

TSA officers have been training on the two AIT machines over the past few weeks. Passengers who chose to opt out of going through the AIT will be subjected to alternative screening methods, which will include a pat-down by a TSA screener.

- Northwest Florida Regional Airport's terminal expansion construction is slightly behind schedule but expected to be completed under budget, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News.

The expansion of the airport that serves the Fort Walton Beach area adds two jet bridges to the terminal and two additional ground boarding gates. The expansion also includes new office space for the Transportation Security Administration, replacing the trailers they now use.

GE footprint
GE Aviation broke ground on a 300,000 square-foot advanced manufacturing plant in Auburn, Ala. It will produce precision, super-alloy machined parts for GE jet engines that will power future commercial and military aircraft, and also to support the fleet of GE jet engines already in service.

Site construction is set to begin Monday and the facility is scheduled to open in 2012. Auburn was selected in part because of its access to skilled workforce and proximity to Alabama's university system.

GE Aviation has become a growing factor in the Gulf Coast region. It's building a composite parts plant in Hattiesburg, Miss., and also operates a composites engine parts facility in Batesville, Miss.

Raytheon Co., Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a $9.3 million contract modification to procure additional Griffin missiles in support of U.S. Special Operations Command. The following Griffin missiles are being purchased via this modification: 70 Griffin Block II A all up rounds, and 21 Griffin Block II A telemetry rounds. Air Armament Center Contracting, Advanced Programs Division, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Speegle Construction Inc., Niceville, Fla., was awarded a $24.6 million contract to provide for the construction of a Special Operation Forces
Operation and Training Facility and an Unmanned Aerial Support Squad Operations Facility at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.