Saturday, January 28, 2017

Week in review (1/22 to 1/28)

It didn't take long for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to order a complete review of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, as well as Air Force One. The fifth-generation F-35 is behind schedule, still has issues and is very costly. But it does represent a leap in technology.

The F-35 review is being done to "significantly" reduce costs, which have been dropping for several years now. A release from Mattis said the review, among other things, would compares the F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assess the extent the Boeing jet improvements can be made in order to provide competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative.

This is of high interest to our region because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has played and continues to play a big role in the development of the program. Elgin is home to the F-35 integrated training center, as well as reprogramming labs.

We'll have to keep an eye on this one for quite some time. Best hope is the cost comes down even more.

Meanwhile, Mississippi got some bad news this week on another aircraft program. Raytheon and Leonardo will no longer jointly pursue the U.S. Air Force's T-X trainer competition.

The two companies had planned to offer the T-100, based on the Leonardo M-346. Last year Raytheon had announced that the plane would be assembled in Meridian near the airport.

The withdrawal narrows the field of competitors to Boeing with Saab, Lockheed Martin and Korean Aerospace, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems; and Sierra Nevada and TAI. The Air Force last month released a request for proposals. (Post)

Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson, Ariz., was awarded a modification to exercise the option on a previously awarded contract for Small Diameter Bomb (SDB II). The contractor will provide, among other things, low-rate initial production for 312 SDB II Lot 3 munitions. Work will be performed at Tucson and is expected to be complete by June 30, 2019. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … General Dynamics - Ordnance and Tactical Systems Inc., Lincoln, Neb., was awarded an $8 million contract for production of the BLU-129/B warhead case assemblies. Work will be performed at Lincoln and is expected to be complete by Jan. 27, 2019. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is the contracting activity. … PAE Applied Technologies LLC, Fort Worth, Texas, was awarded a $9.2 million modification to exercise an option on a previously awarded contract for base operations support services. Work will be performed at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2017. The 81st Contracting Squadron, Keesler Air Force Base, is the contracting activity. … BAE Systems Technology Solutions and Services Inc., Rockville, Md., was awarded a $24.4 million modification to a previously awarded contract for about 568,551 hours of logistics services and incidental materials in support of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s Special Communications Mission Solutions Division to support command, control, communications, computers and intelligence projects. One of the work locations that will do 3 percent of the work is Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Week in review (1/15 to 1/21)

This is the first day of the presidency of Donald J. Trump, who was sworn in Friday as the 45th president of the United States. Whether you love him or loathe him, he is the leader of the American team on the world stage.

For our heavily militarized region, one key side show of the inauguration was the confirmation and swearing in of James N. Mattis as secretary of defense. The retired Marine general was approved with a 98-1 vote after the inauguration.

Mattis released a statement to U.S. troops afterward that credited not only them, but intelligence personnel as "sentinels and guardians of our nation." Mattis also pledged to work with the State Department to strengthen U.S. alliances abroad, some of which have been rattled by Trump questioning their worth.

Mattis retired in spring 2013 as the chief of U.S. Central Command after a career in which he became one of the most influential officers of his generation and commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the first senior military officer to serve as defense secretary since President Truman nominated Army Gen. George C. Marshall for the job in 1950. (Story)

Mattis has indicated his support of the F-35 program, which is good news for our region since Eglin is home of the F-35 integrated training center and two F-35 reprogramming labs. He's apparently an independent thinker willing to take a different approach from the boss, who has criticized the F-35.

It's time for everybody to take a deep breath and give the new administration a chance. Our country is far more resilient than some might think. All the things you see going on right now have happened in the past and will happen in the future.

The 33rd Fighter Wing on Jan. 17 loaded and released the Air Education and Training Command's first live bombs from an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Six aircraft were loaded with armed GBU-12s, and two bombs were released over the Eglin range.

The GBU-12 is a 500-pound laser guided bomb. The F-35 can carry a combined payload of 2.3K pounds of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions internally, with an extended capacity of munitions on each wing. While this is the first live bomb to be loaded into an F-35A here, weapons personnel also regularly load the 2,000-pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition and the AIM-120 missile as part of their training and readiness. (Post)

The 96th Test Wing was scheduled to conduct testing on the Eglin range complex requiring the closure of State Roads 85, 123 and 285. Testing was to take place Jan. 25, and several backup dates were provided. But later in the week Eglin’s testing schedule for Jan. 25, along with backup dates, was canceled. (Post)

-- More than 300 aeromedical specialists attended a week-long conference at Naval Air Station Pensacola designed to provide participants with the latest information regarding aerospace medicine. Rear Adm. Rebecca J. McCormick-Boyle, commander of Navy Medicine Education, Training and Logistics Command, was among the featured speakers hosted by the Pensacola-based Navy Medicine Aerospace Medical Institute. Capt. Joseph LaVan, NAMI officer in charge, noted the event was a critical component in maintaining the continued excellence of Navy Medicine's aerospace community. (Post)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Week in review (1/1 to 1/7)

For those who follow the aerospace and defense industry, one of the biggest question marks with the incoming administration is what will happen to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program?

We care in this region in part because Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is home of the F-35 integrated training center and two reprogramming labs. And beyond that, we're pro-military for both political and economic reasons. So we care about keeping our nation second-to-none when it comes to the nation's defense.

Regarding the F-35, if you were to base your assessment of its future on tweets from the president-elect, you would see trouble ahead for the fifth-generation plane. Trump's clearly not a fan. Early on he said the plane was "not very good," then later, singled out the F-35 in another tweet where he said military costs are out of control, and he plans to save billions.

Then came this one: "Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35 I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!" That caused a lot of folks to scratch their heads and wonder if Trump understands the F/A-18 and F-35 are not in the same league. It's like hanging on to your old, trusty Nokia in an age dominated by smart phones (yes, I tried but finally succumbed).

It's simply not possible to take a late 1970-era plane and turn it into a 21st century stealthy aircraft. One is a Navy multi-role fighter that first saw combat in 1986 over Libya, the other an avionics-packed flying battle station that works with other assets as a holistic unit in a battle field against highly competent, tech-savvy opponents.

For those who think the F-35 is important and must be continued despite all its ongoing issues, there's reason to believe it will survive. Departing Defense Secretary Ash Carter recently said he believes all the work done to fix the troubled program is paying off.

He pointed out that in 2010 the program was in trouble, in danger of being canceled, after racking up $13.5 billion in cost overruns and a six-year delay. But after seven years of hard work on the government and industry sides, costs are coming down and the Marines and airmen beginning to operate the F-35B and F-35A say they are in awe of its capabilities. Carter said there are still challenges, but he said the F-35 is unequivocally the best fighter in the world. (Post)

Importantly, Carter's expected replacement, Retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, has recently indicated his support of the program despite the tweets from the man who will be his boss. That's according to a Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who recently met with Mattis. He told the Hartford Courant newspaper that Mattis gave a "clear commitment" to the continuation of the F-35 program. Connecticut cares because that's where the engines for the F-35 are made by Pratt and Whitney.

Of course, Mattis still has to get a waiver to serve as defense secretary. But it does show he's an independent thinker willing to take a different approach from the boss. Whether the boss will listen to the advice of those around him is another matter entirely. We'll just have to wait and see.

In a story we had in the December issue of the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor Newsletter, we noted Trump's concern over government spending and his concern with the F-35. That was before Trump's tweet about the F/A-18 as a possible alternative.

But if anything, that tweet underscores the significance of a comment made by aerospace expert Richard Aboulafia of The Teal Group. He said in the article that he didn’t think the Trump team had a good handle on the F-35 program, and that once they got up to speed, they'll understand the unmatched role of the F-35. Aboulafia said that if Trump wants to spend money on top-of-the-line weapons systems, the F-35 is the only game in town. (Story)

I'm not blind to the real concerns raised about the costly program. A lot of critical issues still have to be addressed, but as has been said many times by many experts, any new program goes through development problems. In this case, procurement came before all the kinks were worked out.

It's also clear this program is far too entrenched – yes, too big to fail. It involves nearly every U.S. state and eight nations. Perhaps Trump might do well to do what he can to drive down the cost without jeopardizing the F-35's performance goals. Chalk this one up to lesson learned and focus on making sure we take care of getting the most bang for our bucks at the front end of any new program.

Southwest Airlines announced additional service to two airports in the region.

It will offer additional services and routes this summer at Pensacola International Airport (PNS). New, non-stop weekend service to Denver International Airport (DEN) will run June 3-August 14. Southwest is also renewing its seasonal service to both Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and Dallas Love Field (DAL) with an increase in frequency. (Post)

At Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) near Panama City, the company announced two new nonstop flights to Austin, Texas, and Chicago-Midway, bringing the number of nonstop and one-stop destinations available to more than a dozen. Enhanced nonstop service on Southwest begins in June with flights scheduled through the summer season. Southwest is also increasing flight frequency on routes to Nashville, Houston and Dallas throughout the summer season. (Post)