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.