Saturday, April 14, 2012

Week in review (4/8 to 4/14)

Word that the Pentagon will increase the use of drones over the next decade; the suspension of Fire Scout flights; the first formation sortie for Eglin F-35s; the search for a new engine for upper stage of the Space Launch System; a new research center announcement at Stennis Space Center; a defense company's layoffs; a change of command; and an airport's search for a new airline highlighted aerospace activities of interest to the Gulf Coast region during the week.

Unmanned systems
The military will increase its fleet of unmanned aerial aircraft at least 45 percent over the next 10 years. That's according to the Pentagon's 30-year aviation report as reported by Bloomberg.

The inventory of pilotless aircraft will grow from 445 in fiscal year 2013 to 645 in fiscal year 2022, and the new drones will include Northrop Grumman Global Hawks, built in part in Moss Point, Miss., as well as General Atomics' Reapers and Predators.

The Defense Department plans to spend $770 billion on aviation assets from 2013 to 2022, a figure that includes fighters, helicopters, tankers and more. (Post)

Permit me an aside here since I just mentioned tankers. Aviation Week reported that Boeing's decision to close its Wichita plant by the end of next year is causing some concern in the military. The Air Force's KC-46A program executive officer said the Wichita plant was well-suited to militarize the 767, because of decades of experience. Now that work will be done at Boeing's facilities in Puget Sound and Everett, Wash., and the government wants more details about the shift. (Story) As you know, Boeing won the tanker contract over EADS, which planned to assemble and militarize the tankers in Mobile, Ala.

OK, back to unmanned systems.

-- The Navy suspended Fire Scout flight operations while it investigates two unrelated operational accidents with the MQ-8B unmanned helicopter, which are built in part in Moss Point, Miss., by Northrop Grumman.

A Fire Scout operating off the USS Simpson late last month was ditched at sea after a mission when it was unable to lock on to the landing system. The crew later recovered the drone. Two Fire Scouts are deployed on the Simpson and provide the ship's sole aviation capability. (Previous)

Then earlier this month, a Fire Scout crashed in northern Afghanistan while on a surveillance mission.

The Navy has 14 Fire Scouts in inventory. Since 2006 Fire Scouts have accumulated more than 5,000 flight hours with more than 3,000 in operational deployments, according to the military. (Post) A Fire Scout also was also lost during fighting in Libya last summer. (Previous)

Two F-35As from the 33rd Fighter Wing had their first formation flight over Eglin Air Force Base's range April 10. The pilots, both first in their service qualified to fly the F-35, were validating pilot syllabus objectives in preparation for future training. The 33rd FW is responsible for F-35 A/B/C pilot and maintainer training for the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and in the future, at least eight coalition partners. (Post)

Also during the week, Lockheed Martin was awarded a $258.8 million modification to the previously awarded F-35 low rate initial production Lot 5 contract, including one additional conventional take-off and landing aircraft for the Air Force and one more carrier variant aircraft for the Navy. (Post)

NASA and the Air Force will study next-generation upper stage propulsion, formalizing their interest in a new upper stage engine to replace the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL-10.

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., hopes to find a less expensive RL-10-class engine for a third stage of the Space Launch System, and the Air Force Space and Missile System Center's Launch Systems Directorate in Los Angeles hopes to replace the RL-10 engines used on the upper stage of the Atlas V and Delta IV.

Dale Thomas, Associated Director for Technical Issues at Marshall, said collaboration in a time of declining budgets helps strengthen the knowledge base and is important to keep the United States pre-eminent in space. (Post)

Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, is building portions of the Space Launch System, including the Orion crew vehicle, and Stennis Space Center, Miss., tests NASA and commercial rocket engine systems, including the J-2X and Space Shuttle Main Engine that will be used in the first two stages of the SLS.

-- Speaking of Stennis Space Center, it will be the home of the National Oceans and Applications Research Center, according to Gov. Phil Bryant. He said so during the ribbon-cutting for the Infinity Science Center.

NOARC will combine the capabilities of NASA, NOAA and the Navy to analyze and understand the Gulf of Mexico watershed and other oceans NOAA monitors. Bryant said the center will be the "Woods Hole of the South," a reference to the world-renown center in Massachusetts. (Post)

The $30 million, 72,000-square-foot Infinity Science Center, by the way, is just west of the Mississippi Welcome Center, off Interstate 10 at Exit 2, and officials expect it to be a major tourist attraction.

The center showcases the activities of NASA and the 30 agencies at NASA's nearby Stennis Space Center. Exhibits include the Science Express, Science on a Sphere and the Space Gallery. The outdoor exhibits include an F-1 rocket engine, like the ones that powered Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program.

The heavy emphasis on cyberwarfare and other high-tech subjects taught at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., should ensure the installation plays a key role for the U.S. military into the future, a top Air Force intelligence official said in an interview with the Sun Herald.

The Air Force established undergraduate cyberspace training at Keesler in 2010. Maj. Gen. James Poss, assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said the Gulf Coast is turning into the "Cyber Coast." He pointed out that the Navy is involved in cyberwarefare training in Pensacola, Fla., two hours away. There's also cyber training at Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Post)

-- Four members of the 96th Explosive Ordnance will get five medals in a ceremony next week at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Tech Sgt. James Fitzgerald and Staff Sgt. Kelly Badger will be awarded Bronze Stars. Staff Sgts. Kevin Parke and Christopher Lacy will be awarded the Purple Heart. Parke was injured in two separate incidents in Afghanistan and will receive two Purple Hearts.

-- At Mississippi’s Camp Shelby, Col. William B. Smith Jr., has taken over as commander of the Joint Forces Training Center from Col. Robert S. Parham, who is retiring after 26 years of service. Parham had been commander nearly three years. Smith is a native of Greenville, Miss. Camp Shelby is a huge training center and has deployed thousands of troops. (Story, Hattiesburg American, WDAM)

Defense contractor DRS Technologies laid 150 workers during the week as a result of the defense spending downturn, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. The senior vice president of public affairs said the cut was across the board in every department, including hourly employees and managers.

The company still employs about 450 people in its operation at the Fort Walton Beach Commerce and Technology Park. DRS, headquartered in Parsippany, N.J., is a supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces. (Post)

Mississippi's Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport is expected to make a decision within a month on a replacement carrier to take over for Delta Air Lines, according to the Hattiesburg American. Bids were submitted by Silver Airways and Air Choice One Airlines. Delta notified the Department of Transportation in July that it intended to drop 24 routes in smaller markets across the nation, including Hattiesburg. (Post)

-- Northwest Florida Regional Airport at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is closer to standing up the new in-house police force. Interviews were recently completed with 12 candidates. Eight will be hired, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. Airport and county officials hope to make offers in the next two to three weeks. (Post)

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., was awarded a $98.8 million contract to procure enhanced threat response redesign for the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The work will be done in St. Louis, Mo., and to be completed by March 30, 2014. AAC/EBDK/EDBJ, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … EADS North America, Herndon, Va., was awarded a $12.8 million contract to provide contractor logistic support services. Work will be done in Columbus, Miss., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 31, 2012. … Roy Anderson Group, Gulfport, Miss., was awarded a $25.9 million contract for construction of a terminal high altitude area defense instructional facility at Fort Sill, Okla. Work will be done in Lawton, Okla., with an estimated completion date of Sept. 1, 2014. … L&M Welding, Mobile, Ala., was issued a fixed-price with economic price adjustment contract with a maximum $8.5 million for torch repair kits. Using services are Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The date of performance completion is April 8, 2014.

Avondale: Huntington Ingalls Industries is sticking to plans to close its Avondale shipyard near New Orleans, the company's chief executive officer said in an interview in Bloomberg. Shipbuilding will end at Avondale by mid- to late-2013, after it delivers its last amphibious ship. The company is consolidating its Gulf Coast work at the company's shipyards in Pascagoula and Gulfport, Miss. (Post)

Sub: The nuclear-powered attack submarine, Mississippi (SSN-782), returned to the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Conn., after its first voyage in open seas. Mississippi conducted high-speed runs on and under the surface. Mississippi, ninth ship of the Virginia Class, will be commissioned June 2 in Pascagoula, Miss. (Post)

Tug: Horizon Shipbuilding of Bayou La Batre, Ala., has delivered an inland river tugboat to the Army Corps of Engineers. The 58-foot M/V General Irwin will be used in operations and maintenance work. (Post)