Saturday, February 11, 2012

Week in review (2/5 to 2/11)

Moves to speed up the process of allowing unmanned aerial systems in the nation's airspace, rumblings that United Technologies is looking for a buyer for Rocketdyne, and fence-mending at a task force created to protect Florida bases were just some of the key stories during the week of interest to the Gulf Coast aerospace region.

But first, for months now we've been flooded with stories about the Pentagon reductions. One of the more highly publicized cuts is the Air Force's decision to ax the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk Block 30 variant of the unmanned aerial surveillance system.

What I think escapes a lot of attention is the ripple effect from the loss of a particular program. The Block 30 is a case in point. Yes, it impacts Northrop Grumman and its operation in Moss Point, Miss., which builds the central fuselage. And certainly California, where it's all put together.

But that's not where it ends.

For the Air Force Global Hawk variant, there are 248 suppliers -- half of them small businesses -- in 36 states that employ more than 12,000 people and a total $3 billion economic impact. Add the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program to the mix, which is not being cut, and the supplier count rises to 312 in 42 states.

The biggest suppliers for the Global Hawk are Triumph Aerostructures, building wings; Aurora Flight Science, building the tail and other structures; and Rolls-Royce, which supplies the engines. The sensors for the various versions are built by Northrop Grumman in Sacramento, Calif. and Norwalk, Conn. and Raytheon in El Segundo, Calif.

The biggest supplier states, starting with the largest, are California, Indiana, Virginia, Utah, Texas, Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Arizona, and 21 others.

Keep that in mind the next time a particular weapon system is dropped.

- Robotic vehicles sharing the nation's airspace with passenger planes? Well it's bound to happen one day. Congress sent a bill to the president that, among other things, speeds up the process of allowing drones in the national airspace with airliners, business and private planes.

This shouldn't really be much of a surprise. Just look at the growth of the UAV industry. A bit more than a decade ago you could count on your hand the number of UAVs operated by the military. Today they’re commonplace in the military, and folks outside the military are interested in getting drones airborne. Right now the process of getting permission is long and drawn out. The idea behind all this is to make the process faster.

One of the deadlines in the bill is to establish six test sites within the next six months to work on the issue. We already have a few locations in this region where UAVs are permitted to fly, notably military airspace. (Post)

- Bloomberg reports that the Pentagon proposes in its new budget spending $1.2 billion for the first three NATO variant Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and three more Navy variants. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said this month it planned to buy five Alliance Ground System through 2017. The Navy already has two demonstration versions of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System. (Post) AOL Defense also reported during the week that there are informal talks involving Australia and Japan to buy Global Hawks. (Post)

Base cuts
Seems like everything may be patched up with the Defense Support Task Force, the group created to help protect Florida's bases from cuts. The task force made as its first priority preventing the Air Force from placing Eglin Air Force Base's 46th Test Wing under the command of a two-star general at California's Edwards Air Force Base. They fear it's a first step toward moving the wing's research, development, test and evaluation function to California.

Early in the week State Sen. Don Gaetz was critical of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, and how she's handling her role as the state's advocate for the task force. By the end of the week Carroll told fellow task force members that she is, in fact, committed to preserve the Air Armament Center and 46th Test Wing at Eglin. Gaetz, who sponsored the bill creating the task force, said he welcomed her "change of view" on the Eglin issue, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

- The Santa Rosa County Commission got an update on local plans to protect area bases from a possible Base Realignment and Closure round and other military cuts. A consultant praised the work that Santa Rosa County commissioners have done for nearly 10 years to purchase and preserve the land around Naval Air Station Whiting Field, which trains military aviators. A five-county delegation will go to Washington this month to meet with congressional leaders to discuss issues facing Northwest Florida military bases, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. (Post)

Bloomberg, citing people with knowledge in the matter, reported that United Technologies is studying the sale of a pump- and compressor-making division to raise money for the purchase of Goodrich Corp. But more interesting is UT is also looking for a buyer for Pratt and Whiteny Rocketdyne, which makes engines for civilian and military rockets. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne has an operation at Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Goodrich owns the Alabama Service Center in Foley, Ala. (Post)

The old airport in Panama City was to be transferred to its new owners during the week. The sale will help the airport pay off a number of debts and eliminate monthly costs at the old site, according to the Panama City News Herald. St. Andrew Bay Land Co. plans a village-type development at the 700-acre site. Air operations transferred to the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport near West Bay on May 23, 2010. (Post)

Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $14.8 million modification to a previously awarded advance acquisition contract to procure long lead items for F-35 low rate initial production Lot 6 short take-off vertical landing aircraft for the Marine Corps. Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 training center. … 2020 Co. LLC, Falls Church, Va.; Oasis Systems LLC, Lexington, Mass.; and COLSA Corp., Huntsville, Ala., each were awarded a $53.5 million contract for the Technical and Acquisition Management Support Program, which provides a wide range of diverse non-engineering, technical, and acquisition management support within the Air Armament Center and other organizations at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. AAC/PKES, Eglin, is the contracting activity. … The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded an $18.3 million contract for an acceleration effort, regression testing, and a fuze risk reduction effort. AAC/EDBK/EDBJ, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … Sikorsky Support Services Inc., Pensacola, Fla., was awarded a $26 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for logistics services and materials for organizational, intermediate, and depot-level maintenance to support 161 T-34, 54 T-44, and 172 T-6 aircraft based primarily at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; NAS Whiting Field, Fla.; and NAS Pensacola, Fla. Work is expected to be completed in April 2012.

- The next Independence variant of the littoral combat ship will be named the USS Gabrielle Giffords. The former Congresswoman survived a shooting at an event in Arizona in which several other people died. The 419-foot long ship, LCS 10, will be built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. (Post)

- The Navy has moved the June 2 commissioning of the USS Mississippi attack submarine from Gulfport, Miss., to nearby Pascagoula. The Navy had concerns about the channel depth in Gulfport. The sub was christened in Connecticut in December. (Post)

- Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Miss., was awarded a $9 million modification to previously awarded contract for additional long lead time material in support of the LHA Replacement Flight 0 amphibious assault ship, LHA 7. Work will be done in Pascagoula and completed by May 2013.