Saturday, December 17, 2011

Week in review (12/11 to 12/17)

Passage of a defense spending measure that includes protections for Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; the return of an aerospace company to Baldwin County, Ala.; new digs of an aerospace company in Gulf Breeze, Fla.; more rocket engine testing at Stennis Space Center, Miss.; awards and much more highlighted aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Here’s the week in review:

A panel of speakers at the inaugural Defense Communities 360 Live Webcast warned during the week what we've all known for a while: the consequences Pentagon cuts will be widespread at installations nationwide.

"Every military base should seriously contemplate that something adverse is going to happen to them," Barry Steinberg, partner at Kutak Rock, told listeners.

No matter the size of the cut, the military's force structure and weapons systems will decline, panelists said. The really chilling part is that the panelists expect another base closure round perhaps in 2015 or 2017.

The BRAC process allows the Pentagon to consolidate various missions through realignment without Congress overseeing the process. A key for BRAC is merging similar functions performed across the services.

The I-10 region between Southeast Louisiana and Northwest Florida has a lot at stake in any BRAC process. We have a host of bases, many involved in aviation activities. Cuts have already been announced for Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and Keesler Air Force Base and the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Mississippi. And that's just the start as the military makes cuts even before any BRAC.

The next BRAC round would resemble past ones, Steinberg said, but Congress might impose precise constraints on what approaches DoD could pursue in overhauling its real estate, as compared to the 2005 round. Also expect a requirement that the military adopt a more accurate way to assess the costs and savings, Steinberg said. (Post)

That's the kind of thinking -- an accurate assessment of the costs -- behind an amendment drafted by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Designed to protect the research, development, test and evaluation activities at Eglin Air Force Base, the amendment is ncluded in the $662 billion defense spending bill approved by Congress.

The amendment, pushed through a conference committee by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., requires the Air Force to present Congress a report on its proposal to reorganize its Materiel Command within 180 days of the bill’s passage, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

The reorganization announced in November eliminates Eglin's Air Armament Center, replacing it with a directorate, as well as the 96th Base Wing as manager of the base. It gives that function to Eglin's 46th Test Wing, which will be under the command of a two-star at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Air Force officials say that even with the reorganization, Eglin remains the center for aerial weapons development and testing. That's true today. Tomorrow is another matter. Things change, just ask the Boeing workers in Kansas who backed that company's bid to win a tanker contract, only to find months later that workers in Wichita may lose their Boeing plant. Think "recalculate," once an action is done, a recalculation opens up other scenarios.

Nelson, Miller and others are well aware of the value of Eglin's RDT&E. Eglin spends some $600 million to $700 million a year on R&D. To put that in context, just 14 universities in the United States and seven of 39 federally funded research centers spent more than Eglin on R&D in FY 2009. Think what that means. We have in this region one of the nation's premier R&D operations.

Investing in science and engineering is widely recognized as a pathway to prosperity. R&D is key to innovation, and can spur economic growth and high-paying jobs. It attracts high-tech companies and spawns home-grown companies, all elements of sustainable growth. I've often pointed to Huntsville, Ala., as a model for building a sci-tech economy. It continues to be a magnet for high-tech operations. Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen's new space venture, Stratolaunch, will be based in Huntsville. That's not because Allen just happens to like Huntsville. It's because it has the infrastructure and workers to make the business a success.

While not on the level of Huntsville, a thriving aerospace industry has grown up around Eglin due in part to the RDT&E functions. But the fear of politicians and local economic development officials is that Edwards Air Force Base covets all that activity. And if that happens, the industry that's grown around Eglin would be left holding the bag. When the Pentagon makes its calculations about the cost of dismantling Eglin's R&D and moving it elsewhere, it doesn't occur in a vacuum. Those companies will be forced to pay a price, whether that means moving or shutting down. It would also impact the University of Florida, which has engineering R&D activities just outside the base.

Eglin's R&D is a jewel of the Gulf Coast’s economy, but it's not the only military base with an R&D function that could be jeopardized. The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Fla., is one of the Navy's premier research organizations, responsible for support for mission areas within the littoral environment, including mine, amphibious and special warfare, as well as diving systems. It's one of the major research, development, test and evaluation laboratories of the Navy and boasts a wide base of expertise in engineering and scientific disciplines. Protecting that is essential.

What every politician in the Gulf Coast region needs to realize is, yes, it's important to protect the military operation in your own back yard. But Eglin represents an R&D capability others would love to have. And if this region were to lose that, it would make the natural and manmade disasters that have hit this region seem small and short-lived by comparison.

If you want to learn more about this region's R&D activities, take a look at Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor 2011-2012, which I co-authored, and download Part III: RDT&E/applied technology. The book and separate chapters are free thanks to the underwriters, the Aerospace Alliance, Gulf Coast Regional Chamber Coalition and Mississippi Enterprise for Technology.

- The 46th Test Wing at Eglin was awarded an Air Force Outstanding Unit award for 2010. The award, the 13th for the wing, recognizes the top 10 percent of numbered Air Force units. The wing performed more than 5,600 air and ground test missions and logged more than 6,200 flying hours while testing 37 highly modified test aircraft worth $4.5 billion. (Post)

- A new report ranks South Mississippi as one of the top five less-known regions in the country for defense jobs. The report by said defense spending, notably in shipbuilding and aerospace, helped rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina, according to the Sun Herald. The report said South Mississippi has jobs for rocket scientists, oceanographers, cybersecurity personnel, geospatial analysts, technical trainers and test engineers. (Post)

- The 2011 Milken Institute Best-Performing Cities Index ranks Mobile, Ala., 34, Pensacola, Fla., 73, and New Orleans 101 in the list of 200 large metro areas. The index shows the performance of 379 large and small metro areas in creating and sustaining jobs and economic growth, including technology growth. In the list of 179 small metro areas, Pascagoula, Miss., is ranked 40, Panama City, Fla., is 73, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is 75, and Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss., 79. (Post)

Aero-mark MRO will be opening a 26,000 square-foot facility to assemble and repair military aircraft system parts, according to the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance. Plans are to open in January at the Fairhope airport with 25 workers, according to the Mobile Press-Register. The company is awaiting FAA approval for a license. The company is owned by AIRINC, a repair station at the airport that was sold to Fokker Aircraft. Fokker closed the plant last October and moved operations to Georgia. (Post)

- The new $10 million, 53,000-square-foot headquarters of Avalex Technologies will hold a grand opening in Gulf Breeze, Fla., in January. The company makes flat panel displays, digital mapping systems, video recorders and infrared sensor pointing systems for military and law enforcement airborne surveillance, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The company has 65 workers and is hiring. Workers moved into the new building in November from nearby Pensacola. (Post)

- Goodrich Corp.'s Engineered Polymer Products (EPP) site in Jacksonville, Fla., was recognized as a 2011 Manufacturer of the Year by the Manufacturers Association of Florida. EPP is part of Goodrich's Aerostructures business, the same Goodrich division as the Goodrich Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

NASA conducted its final J-2X rocket engine test of the year at Stennis Space Center, Miss. It was the 10th firing in a series on the upper-stage engine for the Space Launch System. The engine was test fired on the A-2 stand at 100 percent power for engine performance calibration and the effects of fuel inlet pressure variations. More testing will be done in 2012. Additional J-2X engines are being manufactured for hot fire testing at Stennis planned through 2014. (Post)

- On the commercial side of the equation, there was another successful test firing of Aerojet's AJ26 No. 8 engine in support of Orbital Science Corp.'s program to launch a cargo mission to the International Space Station. The next test of a the AJ26 No. 9 engine is slated for January. The engines will be used on Orbital's Antares rocket, the new name for the medium-class launch vehicle previously called Taurus II. (Post)

- When you think of space in this region, you normally think of Stennis Space Center, Miss. But there's another space operation at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The operators of the 20th Space Control Squadron use the world's most powerful radar for around-the-clock space surveillance. The public affairs office published a feature story about the organization. (Post)

A maritime training facility being built at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., will be named after Gov. Haley Barbour. Work on the 76,000-square-foot Haley Reeves Barbour Maritime Training Academy could begin as early as January and completed in 18 months, according to the Mississippi Press. (Post)