January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will lift a yearlong “probation” imposed on the most complex model of Lockheed Martin’s Corp’s F-35 fighter jet, according to a U.S. official.
Panetta will announce he is satisfied with the progress of the F-35B during a visit tomorrow to its test facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.
The B model is the most complex version of the fighter and is being watched as a bellwether for the $382 billion F-35 program, the Pentagon’s most costly. The Marine Corps plans to buy about 340 of the aircraft that can take off like a conventional fighter and land like a helicopter.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided in January 2011 to put the Marine Corps jet on what was then envisioned to be a two-year “probation” to give Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed more time to demonstrate the fighter’s reliability.
Lockheed rose 1.7 percent to $83.64 at 3:36 p.m. in New York trading.
The fighter jet should be taken off probation because of the results in testing last year, Marine Corps General James Amos said in a letter to Panetta dated Jan. 10 and obtained today.
“Since the F-35B program is moving forward without any unique issues that require additional scrutiny, I am recommending rescission of the probation,” Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, said.
Amos, who tracks the aircraft’s testing and assembly progress from a computer terminal at his desk, said he was “confident the F-35B’s development and testing is on track,” citing what he said was “excellent progress” during tests designed to assess it ground and sea-based operations.
Gates, Panetta’s predecessor, said last year that the F-35B was “experiencing significant testing problems” that “could lead to a redesign of the aircraft’s structure and propulsion — changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb.”
“If we cannot fix this variant during this time and get back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be canceled,” Gates said.
By Tony Capaccio
January 19th, 2012
January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to meet with top aerospace executives on Jan. 20 to discuss the industrial base at a time when projected military spending is expected to decline.
About 40 CEOs and senior representatives from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), Professional Services Council (PSC) and National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) are slated to attend the meeting with Panetta, according to Alexis Allen, an AIA spokeswoman.
“The meeting is part of the ongoing dialogue with the Pentagon about important issues between the industry and DoD,” Allen said in an email message. “Some of the discussion will address issues that were in the Joint Industrial Base Report that AIA, PSC and NDIA submitted to the Pentagon in November.”
The week’s meeting with AIA follows the Pentagon’s Jan. 5 release of a new comprehensive military strategy.
Panetta plans to talk with the industry officials about the strategy and export control reform, according to a senior defense official.
The new strategy emphasized the DoD’s desire to protect the industrial base, but also described a push for more flexibility from manufacturers as the military is adjusted for future missions. The document is designed to shape $487 billion in cuts to planned defense spending over the next decade.
The first five years of those cuts are expected to be outlined in the Pentagon’s 2013 budget proposal. The White House is expected to send its federal spending plan to Capitol Hill on Feb. 6.
Panetta is expected to preview those cuts on Jan 26.
But additional Pentagon spending reductions might be on the horizon. Last November, a bipartisan congressional panel was unable to find areas to cut government spending by $1.2 trillion over the next decade, prompting sequestration. DoD’s share of these cuts are about $600 billion over 10 years.
The cuts do not go into effect until January 2013, meaning Congress could write legislation reducing or eliminating them.
AIA has lobbied hard against the additional defense spending cuts, saying they would harm the U.S. industrial base.
The industrial base report authored by the three lobbying groups warned that sequestration cuts could force production lines to close, prompting layoffs and the elimination of entire companies.
By Marcus Weisgerber
January 19, 2012
January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced new Pentagon initiatives Wednesday to try to reduce an “unacceptable” number of sexual assaults in the military.
Panetta said there were 3,191 reports of sexual assault in 2011, a slight increase from 2010. Because the crime is underreported, the military estimates that the actual number was closer to 19,000, Panetta said at a press conference announcing the new measures Wednesday.
“It is an affront to the basic American values we defense and it is a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops and our families,” Panetta said.
The Defense Department has often been criticized in Congress and by advocates for not taking sexual assault seriously enough.
Panetta said Wednesday that he’s made it his own priority to curb military sexual assaults, and said there would future initiatives in the coming months that would require congressional action.
Wednesday’s announcement included a program for sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates to receive credentialing aligned with national standards. The Pentagon will expand access to victim support services for military spouses, adult dependents, and DoD contractors abroad.
Panetta said he is also increasing funding for investigators and judicial advocates to receive special training, and calling for an assessment in 120 days about how to best train commanding officers and senior enlisted leaders on sexual assault prevention.
Last month, the Pentagon announced two additional initiatives to tackle sexual assault as it released a report that showed an increase in sexual assault cases at military academies in 2011.
By Jeremy Herb
January 18, 2012
January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Of all of the manufacturing companies in Muskegon County, historic L3 Combat Propulsion Systems has been left behind in the current economic surge in the industrial sector.
A combination of the winding down of two Middle Eastern wars and unprecedented deficit pressure on the federal budget have been a one-two punch to the defense contractor that carries the legacy of Continental Motors in Muskegon.
As surviving Muskegon-area manufacturers mainly tied to the recovering North American automobile industry thrive as they exit the Great Recession, L3 has gone in the other direction. Peak employment in 2006 was 630 workers in Muskegon on Getty Street — known among locals as the plant “on the hill.” Today, L3 employs only 350 in Muskegon, company officials report.
L3 Combat Propulsion President Michael Soimar is blunt: “The defense industry is down the drain.”
Today, L3 Combat Propulsion is a 100 percent defense contractor both for the U.S. military and its allies around the world, company officials said. But the product mix is expected to change as the uncertainty of U.S. defense spending hammer’s the local operations.
L3 Combat Propulsion develops and manufactures transmissions, air-cooled engines and suspensions for military vehicles along with gun turret drives and other tank components. The company had $1 billion of new defense contract business in the U.S. Defense Department pipeline before the current fiscal crisis and the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts headed for conclusion, Soimar said.
L3 isn’t sitting on the sidelines in this recovery licking its wounds. The Muskegon-based division of defense contractor L3 Communications is exploring new technologies and products both inside and outside of the defense industry. Commercial applications of its alternative energy technologies mainly associated with L3’s 2006 acquisition of German-based Magnet-Motor GmbH are in research and development stages.
The development of the future Army vehicle program has stalled. Not only will fewer vehicles and replacement parts be needed with ground troops leaving the Middle East, the Obama Administration’s strategic shift to the Far East means more resources will be shifted into the Air Force and the Navy, Soimar said.
“At this moment, the Army is at a standstill,” Soimar said on an industry downturn affect all defense contractors. “No one sees a major ground engagement in the near future.”
So even within the defense sector, L3 Combat Propulsion officials are looking for new business where they can find it. If the U.S. federal debt will not allow for spending on new Army transportation platforms, there are friendly countries around the world that still are investing in their armies.
At the end of last year, L3 Combat Propulsion announced a major, multi-year contract with the Israel Ministry of Defense for the production and remanufacture of diesel engines for tank and armed personnel carriers. L3 continues to serve the Israeli military as Continental Motors, Teledyne and General Dynamics had done for decades when those companies owned the Muskegon plant.
The company also reported a technical update on critical testing of a new heavy-fuel rotary engine that L3 hopes will be a new product made in Muskegon in the next two years.
L3’s production in Muskegon before the Great Recession had been 80 percent for the U.S. government and 20 percent for its allies, Soimar said. Today, the mix being produced by L3 here is 60 percent domestic product and 40 percent international, he said.
The Israeli contract and continued development of the company’s new R350 heavy-fuel rotary engine designed for unmanned aerial vehicles known as “drones” will keep defense work going in Muskegon. But Soimar worries about the industrial base of all the defense contractors in the future.
“When the dust settles, we need to keep supporting this industrial base,” Soimar said. “Right now it is not a very bright picture.”
By Dave Alexander
January 19, 2012
January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
Good morning from the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Va.‘s beautiful district of Crystal City. (It isn’t actually all made from crystal.)
Lockheed Martin got the proceedings started on Tuesday with an ambitious update about its unmanned K-MAX helicopter, two of which are resupplying Marines now in Afghanistan. Company officials are very pleased with the way the helo has been working so far, making about a flight a day in place of manned resupply convoys, and they’ve got big dreams for what could happen going forward.
The Marines are all good and well, Lockheed says, but company officials said Thursday they’ve had a lot of interest from another big potential customer: The Army. Army service officials are interested in fitting a K-MAX with electro-optical sensors and some kind of “self-defense” armament, said Lockheed exec George Barton, and potentially duplicating the Marines’ resupply experiment on an Army scale.
There’s nothing official yet, Barton stressed (“it’s just a discussion”) but Lockheed hopes it can make the same pitch it made to the Marines: Resupplying troops with an unmanned helicopter takes convoys off the road, removing troops from the danger of ambushes and saving the fuel and wear on their vehicles.
“I think if this current military assessment goes as well as it’s going right now, it’ll show the benefit to troops on the ground, and I think there’s going to be tremendous interest from the U.S. Army, and continued interest from the Marine Corps” Barton said.
Company officials didn’t have exact details Tuesday for how K-MAX compares to traditional ground convoys — as in, exactly how many trips does it save, or how many trucks and soldiers does it take out of the fight. But they did say it takes much less maintenance than a manned helicopter and it can sling a lot of cargo: About 6,000 pounds at sea level and more than 4,000 pounds at 15,000-foot density altitude, the company says.
You might be thinking, great, wonderful, they’re obviously eager to do some big sales, but how about a reality check: This is the year of the big crunch, of Austerity America — does anyone expect anything in this environment but cuts, cuts cuts? Quite right. But you know the old game: If Lockheed and the services can show they end up saving money with unmanned resupply, given that it reduces the requirement for soldiers and vehicles, this thing could well take off after all.
Barton said Lockheed, Marine and Army officials are working out the “business case” now, based on some of the early data from the Afghanistan trial. He was clearly hopeful: “I think, intuitively, it’s there.”
By Philip Ewing Tuesday
January 10th, 2012
January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
There have been few moments in our history when the nation so badly needed institutions to unify the country, overcome divisiveness, and dispel the unfounded “jealousies and prejudices” that our first president warned against. As George Washington wrote to Alexander Hamilton, bringing together the youth “from different parts of the United States” at a university would allow young people to learn there was no basis for “jealousies and prejudices which one part of the union had imbibed against another part.”
Yet if the Supreme Court decides to hear a case called Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin , colleges could be severely restricted in continuing to serve this unifying function.
A white student named Abigail Fisher has argued that she would have been admitted to the University of Texas if the school had refrained from considering race in its admissions decisions and that her constitutional rights have been harmed as a result. Lower courts decided against Fisher, ruling that the university’s efforts to assemble a racially diverse student body complied with the constitutional standards established in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger , the Supreme Court’s definitive holding on affirmative action in U.S. education.
A move away from the court’s recognition in Grutter of the “substantial” and “laudable” benefits of a diverse student body would be as damaging to higher education as it would be ill-timed for the nation at large. When students encounter others’ points of view and discover how contrary opinions have been forged by different life experiences, they learn more than how we differ: They learn what we have in common.
The places in U.S. society where people of different backgrounds have a meaningful opportunity to learn about each other are far too rare. Yet instead of cultivating these unifying social institutions, we have been undermining them. Sixteen years ago, California adopted a ballot measure banning the consideration of race in admissions decisions. Within five years, only 3 percent of the students in California’s public law schools were African American (compared with 10 percent at the state’s private law schools), and black enrollment declined throughout the state system. Similar ballot measures have passed in Arizona, Washington state and Michigan, where a federal appellate court is reviewing the law’s constitutionality. This year, New Hampshire banned admissions policies that value racial diversity.
Especially in this era of economic insecurity, the argument is made that diversity in post-secondary schools should be focused on family income rather than racial diversity. Of course, we want both. When universities are granted the freedom to assemble student bodies featuring multiple types of diversity and possess the resources to support “need blind” admissions with full financial aid, the result is a highly sought-after learning environment that attracts the best students.
Consider Columbia, where our undergraduate student body has the highest percentage of low- and moderate-income students and the largest number of military veterans of our peer institutions, as well as the highest percentage of African American students among the nation’s top 30 universities. But our country cannot rely on private universities such as Columbia to realize these benefits. Far more students attend our great public universities, where a combination of declining state support and unfavorable ballot measures pose a serious risk to our model of higher education.
Dismantling an educational system that for decades has valued contact among students with different sensibilities and replacing it with one that does not would be regrettable on many fronts. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority in Grutter v. Bollinger that the benefits of a diverse student body are “not theoretical but real”: Indeed, more than five dozen leading corporations, including Microsoft, General Electric, Shell Oil and 3M, told the court in 2003 that students learning in diverse educational settings can be expected to be better workers. These companies cited skills ranging from creative problem solving and the ability to develop products with cross-cultural appeal to the employees’ ease with global business partners and their positive effect on the work environment. In an amicus brief submitted to the court, retired U.S. military leaders also advocated racially diverse student bodies, noting that with minorities constituting 40 percent of the active-duty armed forces as of 2002, “success with the challenges of diversity is critical to national security.”
Last month, the departments of Education and Justice announced new guidance on the implementation of Grutter intended to encourage schools embracing the educational benefits of a diverse student body. The action is a strong antidote to what had been a prevailing vagueness in legal guidance and its attendant chilling effect on university presidents and admissions officers. But the impact could be short-lived, for it will remain relevant only so long as the rationale for considering race in admissions remains constitutionally valid.
This is the wrong time for the Supreme Court to abandon its decades-old commitment to the role colleges and universities play in unifying and elevating U.S. society. To ensure the nation’s prosperity and fulfill our founding ideals of equal opportunity, the court should stand by its strong endorsement of diversity in higher education.
By Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University and a director of The Washington Post Co. He was the named defendant in the 2003 cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.
January 15, 2012
January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
The U.S. Air Force constellation of satellites designed to transmit high-resolution imagery and videos continues to expand as U.S. allies appear ready to pledge financial support for one spacecraft and Congress provides funding for another.
As a result of steadily rising demand for global satellite communications services, the Air Force’s Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) fleet of X- and Ka-band satellites, which originally was expected to include six satellites, now is likely to include 10 spacecraft.
“A multinational agreement is in the works with several nations which may add another satellite to our constellation,” Dave Madden, director of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Military Satellite Communications Systems Directorate in Los Angeles, said Jan. 10 during a teleconference with reporters to discuss the planned Jan. 19 launch of the fourth WGS spacecraft. The satellite funded by the multinational group would be the ninth WGS satellite.
The U.S. allies expected to share the cost of the spacecraft are Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and New Zealand, industry officials said. Air Force officials declined to confirm that list of countries but said the United States and five international partners are expected to sign by Jan. 17 a memorandum of understanding pledging funding for a ninth WGS satellite.
“If the deal goes through, [the five nations] will pay to procure the satellite in exchange for access to a certain percentage of bandwidth across the entire WGS constellation,” Madden said. The agreement is similar to a deal U.S. and Australian government officials approved in 2007. Under that agreement, Australia paid for the sixth WGS spacecraft in exchange for access to the WGS constellation.
These agreements benefit the U.S. military because “we get an additional satellite on orbit to support our operations and it aligns U.S. forces with allies because they are all on the same equipment,” Madden said.
Funding for a 10th WGS satellite was included in the 2012 Defense Department budget bill signed Dec. 31 by U.S. President Barack Obama. Although the Air Force did not request money for that spacecraft in its 2012 budget plan, Congress provided $326 million to pay for it.
That money was drawn from another program, Assured Satcom Services in Single Theater, or ASSIST, a Defense Department initiative designed to reduce the cost of acquiring commercial satellite communications services by establishing a long-term lease of a dedicated, commercial spacecraft to serve U.S. forces in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.
Due in part to a growing reliance on unmanned aircraft capturing large amounts of imagery, demand for military satellite communications capacity is expected to increase exponentially, Madden said. Air Force officials are “working hard to try to figure out the best way to satisfy demand with a combination of WGS, hosted payloads and other options,” he added.
Three WGS satellites are currently in orbit. The fourth WGS spacecraft has been mounted on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida in preparation for launch. Prime contractor Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., is building the fifth, sixth and seventh WGS satellites. On Dec. 16, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a $296 million contract for production and launch of the eighth WGS satellite.
After launching WGS-4, Air Force officials plan to spend approximately six weeks using the satellite’s xenon-ion thrusters to raise the satellite into orbit. That propulsion system is similar to the one that failed to move the Air Force’s first Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite into orbit after its August 2010 launch. Investigators determined that the AEHF thruster malfunctioned due to debris in the fuel line. Air Force officials have scrutinized the WGS-4 fuel lines to ensure the same problem does not prevent that satellite from reaching orbit on schedule, Madden said.
The WGS-4 satellite is scheduled to be placed in an orbit over the continental United States while engineers test its performance. By the end of April, WGS-4 is scheduled to move to its destination “in the Indian Ocean region,” Madden said.
In January 2013, the Air Force plans to launch the fifth WGS satellite. WGS-6 is scheduled for launch in June 2013, said Jim Sponnick, United Launch Alliance vice president for mission operations.
By Debra Werner
11 January, 2012