Saturday, February 4, 2012

Week in review (1/29 to 2/4)

Plans to reduce the number of aircraft at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the promised addition an F-22 squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., NATO's decision to buy Global Hawk unmanned systems, another snag with the F-35, moves to create an even more powerful penetrator bomb and the final days of StenniSphere are some of the news items during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace corridor.

High on everybody's list of important stories is anything related to the cuts being planned by the Pentagon. During the week the proposed 2013 military budget, designed to save the Air Force $8.7 billion over five years, was released.

In the Gulf Coast region, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., best known for its electronics training and home of the 403rd Reserve Wing, is scheduled to take a hit. It will lose 10 C-130Js in fiscal year 2014. The wing transports personnel and equipment and has been a major player in combat operations in Southwest Asia. There's no indication this will impact the Hurricane Hunters.

Further up state, Key Field Air National Guard in Meridian, will lose six C-27J in FY13 and one RC-26 in FY14. But those aircraft will be replaced by between nine and 11 MC-12s in FY14, which the Air Force said is a more capable plane.

As expected, the plan includes the retirement in FY13 of 18 Block 30 Global Hawks stationed at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. That's of interest to this region because fuselage work on the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk is done in Moss Point, Miss. (Post)

But on a positive note for the Global Hawk, NATO broke a nearly two decade logjam and agreed to jointly fund operations of an airborne ground- surveillance system. That means buying five Northrop Grumman Block 40 Global Hawks. The Alliance Ground Surveillance project will have its main base at Sigonella, Italy, and several associated command-and-control base stations. (Post)

- When the Air Force explains to Congress this month its rationale for a mission consolidation announced in November, the Florida delegation will be armed with questions supplied by two members of the Defense Support Initiative task force. The two men have worked for years with Okaloosa County Economic Development Council and were there when attempts were made to move the 46th Test Wing from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. According to the Northwest Florida Daily News, they see the consolidation as a step towards moving Eglin's valuable research, development, test and evaluation functions to Edwards. (Post)

- While everyone is paying close attention to cuts, one interesting item during the week had to do with growth. A new combat F-22 squadron will be coming to Tyndall Air Force Base in Northwest Florida, according to the commander of the 325th Fighter Wing. He said the first personnel will begin arriving in July and aircraft in January 2013, according to the Panama City News Herald. (Post)

- In another Tyndall-related item, Air Force engineers and researchers are hoping to find out whether a ceramic coating can help the military reach energy savings goals. Engineers at the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency will test the coating in April using two nearly identical buildings, according to the Air Force. (Post)

- All this activity at Tyndall might not surprise the new executive director of the Bay County Economic Development Alliance. Neal Wade told the Panama City News Herald that one of the reasons he took the job was his belief that Bay County is in a good position to be the next growth area in Northwest Florida.Wade, who said he hopes to snag a major aerospace company for a spot by the new airport in West Bay, said that with assets like the Air Force and Navy bases nearby and major defense contractors in the area, the West Bay area is ideal for an aerospace company to open up a new facility. (Post)

The force structure changes also affirms the Air Force's commitment to the F-35, despite the delays and cost issues. In the latest snag, F-35 fighters beginning Jan. 26 were grounded due to improper loading of parachutes in their ejection seats. It affects six aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., nine at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and three nearly completed planes at Lockheed's production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. (Post)

- Eglin is scheduled to get another 17 F-35 jets this year, according to a Lockheed Martin official who briefed the media in Northwest Florida during the week. Eglin, where pilots and maintainers from all branches of the military will be trained, already has three Marine Corps variants of the F-35 and six Air Force variants. Jets arriving this year will include the first Navy version, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

- Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 had a change of command ceremony Friday. Lt. Col. David R. Berke took over command from Lt. Col. James B. Wellons. Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 is the first Marine Corps squadron to receive F-35B aircraft for pilot and maintainer training at the 33rd Fighter Wing F-35 Integrated Training Center. (Post)

- Here's one final item on the F-35. General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products was awarded a $23.6 million contract by Lockheed Martin for production of more than two dozen GAU-22/A gun systems for the F-35. The GAU-22/A is a light-weight, four-barrel version of the GAU-12/U 25mm Gatling gun, which the company has made for more than 40 years. The GAU-22/A is mounted internally on the F-35A variant and externally on the B and C models. (Post)

OK, since we just talked about a weapon, here's another weapon-related item.

The huge Massive Ordnance Penetrator is not capable of destroying the most fortified underground facilities, so the military wants to make it even more powerful, according to the Wall Street Journal. The 13.6-ton bunker buster is the nation's largest conventional bomb, but the Pentagon wants funding to enhance the bomb's ability to penetrate deeper into rock, concrete and steel before exploding. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is involved in developing MOP. (Post)

More than 6,300 people applied to become a NASA astronaut, the second highest number of applications ever received by the agency. The highest response occurred in 1978 with 8,000 applicants. Nine to 15 people will be chosen to become part of the 21st astronaut class. NASA expects to announce a final selection in the spring of 2013. This region is involved in space programs through NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in South Mississippi and Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. (Post)

The ground work for the new GE Aviation in Ellisville is nearly complete and company officials will soon make a decision on a general contractor for the 300,000-square-foot plant in Ellisville, Miss., northeast of Hattiesburg. The $56 million project is in the Howard Technology Park, and is the second GE Aviation plant in Mississippi. The other, in Batesville, produces composite components for aircraft engines. Another GE Aviation plant is being built in Auburn, Ala. (Post)

- Aircraft company LSI, operating out of a 20,000 square-foot building in Pensacola, Fla., is weeks away from expanding into an adjacent 12,000 square-foot facility. The Pensacola News Journal reports that the operation has 40 employees and will add 20 or more over the next year. The operation converts Army helicopters that are no longer flight-worthy into ground-based platforms to train aviation technicians. (Post)

The National Flight Academy will have a test class in March followed by its first full class in May, according to the Pensacola News Journal. The academy at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., is designed to pique the interest of students in science, technology, engineering and math. The 102,000 square-foot academy is designed to look like the inside of an aircraft carrier. The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation raised $18.5 million for construction of the academy and $15 million to outfit it. (Post)

Meanwhile, the Infinity Science Center near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, south of Stennis Space Center, is getting ready to open in the spring. One of the biggest indicators of the progress was word that StenniSphere, the museum and visitor center inside SSC itself that opened in 2000, will close for good Feb. 15. Various exhibits are being moved into Infinity. The Infinity center will provide visitors with an entertaining way to learn about the STEM activities at Stennis Space Center. (Post)

SRI International
, Menlo Park, Calif., was awarded a $13.2 million contract for the acquisition of a five-year research and development program. The Digital Video Laboratory (DVL) provides highly specialized hardware/software for data /video transmission, video compression, video data manipulation, image sensors, data/video storage, data/video retrieval and data/video searches. It will support the 46 Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base. AAC/PKET, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … EADS - NA, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $10.1 million contract to provide for the modification of an existing contract for contract logistic support services. Work will be performed in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Nov. 30, 2013. … Textron Defense Systems, Wilmington, Maine, was awarded a $13.6 million contract for 143 munition control units; 5 MCU test sets; 15 munitions application program cards; one wind corrected munitions dispenser dual system support simulator; one WCMD telemetry ground station; 10 WCMD telemetry kits; two instrumented measurement kits; and 1552 lanyard connectors. AAC/EBJK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Kaman Precision Products Inc., Orlando, Fla., was awarded a $24.2 million contract to provide the Air Force with 6,067 of the Joint Programmable Fuze Systems to meet munitions requirements. AAC/EBDK, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … CSC Applied Technologies LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $26.9 million contract for the exercise of option for the base operating support service contract at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. 81 CONS, Keesler, is the contracting activity. … L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC, Madison, Miss., was awarded a  $24 million contract to exercise an option for contractor logistics support and Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department support for the T-39 Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Training Program. This effort includes support of the UMFO government-owned T-39N and T-39G aircraft and associated equipment, including organizational and depot level repair. In addition, this provides intermediate level maintenance and support for Chief of Naval Air Training aircraft, transient aircraft, tenant, and other services activities at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, and surrounding areas through the AIMD. Work will be performed in Pensacola, Fla. (75 percent), and Corpus Christi, Texas (25 percent).