It was the two-week long Southern Strike training exercise that involved more than 2,000 special warfare operators from all branches of the U.S. services, along with some foreign units. It was noteworthy, in part because it illustrated just how important this region is to the nation's defense. More on that later.
The Aerospace Alliance summit was held at the Island View, and about 130 people attended. The impressive list of participants included economic development leaders, academic officials and officials from a host of companies that are involved in aerospace activities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, the member states of the Aerospace Alliance.
This is the third one I've attended, starting with the inaugural event at the Sandestin Resort at Miramar Beach, Fla. I also attended the summit in Huntsville, Ala., a few years ago in part because I have family who live in that area, so it was a great opportunity to visit as well as cover the summit.
The 2016 iteration of the summit kicked off with a dinner Thursday evening. In his introduction, Neal Wade, chairman of the 8-year-old Aerospace Alliance, said the four states rank as the third largest aerospace corridor in the world. He said that says a lot about the depth the breadth of the aerospace and defense industry in the four states.
But with the election coming up Tuesday, politics was the focus of the dinner speaker, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. He was the state’s two-term Republican governor from 2004 to 2012, and he spoke about the uncertainties and concerns over the presidential election.
Barbour, the 63rd governor of Mississippi, is also the former chairman of the Republican Governor's Association and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was widely praised for his leadership during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Gulf oil spill of 2010, and today is a respected observer of the political system.
"Nobody's ever seen anything like this," he said about the contentious race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. He said two-thirds of the American people think the nation is going the wrong way, and that people are mad and scared.
Barbour brought up the decision of the British to leave the European Union, where many people were mad and tired of having decisions made in Brussels rather than London. They wanted to tell Brussels "something vivid," he said. Then he shifted to the United States election.
"In America, Washington is not in another country, but a lot of Americans feel like it's in another country. And they wanted to shoot Washington the bird and they couldn't think of a better, more magnificent jackass middle finger than Donald Trump," he said.
He ran through a litany of problems the country faces, including the weak recovery, terrorism, crime and the balkanization of the media. Barbour said that historically when there’s parity between the two parties, "we're bunched up in the middle. Today there is no middle."
He said that in this environment, we are stuck with the two most negatively perceived nominees of the two greatest political parties in the world, he said, and for many the choice is "which one I want to vote against more?"
The next day the focus shifted back to aerospace. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis with The Teal Group, discussed the growth of the aerospace industry, still the strongest industry on the planet. But he also warned that a correction looms in the future. There were also several panel discussions, including one on commercial applications of unmanned aircraft systems.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in his welcoming address spoke about the significance of aerospace for Mississippi. He said virtually every commercial plane in the world has at least one part made in Mississippi, which has 120 aerospace sector companies, including some of the biggest names in the industry. He also said the four-state region is where the growth of the industry is going to be.
When the summit was over, Glenn McCullough Jr., executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the event highlighted that there are great opportunities for the four states. Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, said the region is building an important corridor, noting that among other things the shared “NASA DNA” provides unique advantages. (Post)
We'll have a more detailed story and analysis about the summit in the December issue of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor/Gulf Coast Reporters’ League Aerospace Newsletter.
Meanwhile, while the summit was going on, special operators and conventional units were wrapping up their two weeks of training in South Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.
The nerve centers for the training were the Mississippi National Guard at the Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, just south of Hattiesburg.
The training included three, large-war games, multiple bilateral events, and a final culmination exercise. (Post) The Sun Herald had a story about the training Friday. (Story)
HX5 LLC, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was awarded a $7.3 million modification to a contract for a six-month extension providing for the entire spectrum of mission planning support for 98 Army National Guard flying units. Work will be performed in Arlington, Va.,, with an estimated completion date of April 30, 2017. … DCS Corp., Alexandria, Va., was awarded $59.5 million modification to a previously awarded contract for weapons and systems integration support services for the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division’s (NAWCWD’s) aircraft integrated product teams. Aircraft include the F/A-18, EA-18G, F-35, AV-8B, AHN-1/UH-1, and unmanned aerial systems. Work will be performed at NAWCWD China Lake, Calif. (87 percent); Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (8 percent); and at various locations within the U.S. (5 percent), and is expected to be completed in October 2017.