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Unarmed Reaper Crashes Into Lake Ontario

November 12, 2013 by · Comment
Filed under: New York, Syndicated Industry News 

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Lockheed and Kaman to Work on Unmanned Cargo Aircraft for Army

The u.S. military has invested heavily in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). These primarily perform reconnaissance and intelligence collection missions although they and the C.I.A. have used them for strike missions against limited target sets. As with lots of different countries across the globe the U.S. is looking at other roles for these systems with an eye to freeing up manpower or providing better force protection through limiting exposure of troops.

At the end of last year the U.S. Navy awarded Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Kaman (KAMN) a contract to develop the K-MAX cargo helicopter into a unmanned resupply system. That contract was worth about $45 million. Now the U.S. Army has followed suit.

They awarded the two companies a similar contract with a value of up to $47 million. This is to also look at making the K-MAX into an unmanned cargo helicopter with a goal of reduced workload and increased accuracy.

The K-MAX is a rather unique looking aircraft with twin intermeshed rotors that carries a decent load externally. It has been developed for use in logging and cargo operations.

The Army and Marine Corps are also looking at using unmanned ground vehicles to provide supply in combat areas. These include a range of vehicles from ones that accompany troops to carry their gear to bigger systems that would replace the current manned trucks carrying large amounts of fuel and cargo. This kind of technology has the potential to free up troops from these missions as well as provide a way to transfer cargo safely.

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Despite Record Defense Spending Layoffs Starting to Mount

The Obama Administration submitted its 2012 budget to Congress yesterday and it contains a record request for defense funding. This includes over a $100 billion to conduct operations in Afghanistan and Iraq while continuing the investment in new equipment to improve capabilities against other threats. Despite this and due to the cyclical nature of defense programs and spending several companies, large and small, announced recently a restructuring of their workforces.  As the U.S. defense budget adjusts to fiscal reality and requirement changes more companies may be in this situation.

Defense acquisition programs tend to be built in large quantities over a span of several years as the military attempts to field its needs quickly. This can lead to a requirement for a contractor to ramp up facilities, staff and production very quickly and then just as quickly cut it back as the U.S. military meets its requirements. It behooves a contractor to identify other customers or programs that it may support to try and maintain a steady production line and workforce. This is not always possible and the history of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle production in America illustrates this as several companies invested in large plants that are now running at a much lower capacity as the U.S. has met its needs for the MRAP.

Recent layoff announcements include:

  • Amherst Systems of New York, which is a subsidy of Northrop Grumman (NOC), the engineering and manufacturing company provides systems to support electronic systems and test ranges.  They will be laying off over one hundred people or almost twenty percent of their workforce due to “a drop in orders”.
  • Northrop Grumman itself is eliminating 150 jobs at its Laser Systems facility in Florida.  The company had won a contract to produce laser rangefinders and designators.  Again the reduction is related to a future lack of work.
  • BAE Systems (BAE:LSE) is letting go about 50 people at a plant in Pennsylvania that makes MRAP vehicles.  The U.S. has shifted to one supplier, Oshkosh (OSK), for its new MRAP and relies on others to support and repair the existing fleet mainly purchased in 2005-2009.  Companies will now have to look for other countries to invest in MRAP to maintain their production and right now that is not happening.

Stories like this may accelerate in the near future as companies figure out what will be needed by the Defense Department in a time of reducing budgets.  At the same time there are other defense contractors who need to hire people to support their new work or programs.  Many times, though, the new company is not located near places where the layoffs are happening so that transferring people may not be so easy.

The history of the U.S. defense budget has been cycles of rapid, large expenditures followed by years of smaller budgets.  The U.S. may be entering a period of extended decline in defense spending with a negative effect on the defense contracting industry.

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DARPA Expand Foliage Penerating Radar Program from SRC Inc.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded New York based SRC Inc. a contract to begin development of a work station to support aircraft based foliage penetrating radar. The contract is worth about $11 million and will process and display data from another SRC product: the Foliage Penetrating, Reconnaissance, Surveillance, Tracking and Engagement Radar (FORESTER).

The goal of the FORESTER program is to mount a radar on either an unmanned or conventional aircraft and have it detect troop and vehicle movements in heavily forested terrain. The radar will penetrate the tree cover as well as ground clutter and discriminate through moving leaves and debris.

SRC has been working on the radar for DARPA for several years. The company is also working on a similar program for the Army through a separate contract.

Like all ISR systems the data collected by the FORESTER radar must be sent for processing and analysis somewhere. The workstation will aid in that. Once the data is understood it then must be further distributed to the unit that needs it either for situational awareness or so that it may engage any detected enemy troops.

As an anecdote I worked almost twenty years ago with a retired Air Force officer who had been involved in a similar project after the Vietnam War. In this case the Air Force wanted to develop a system that could find downed aircrew in heavy jungle terrain. This continues to show that some requirements never go away they just get further refined or developed.

Photo from debabrata’s flickr photostream.

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Lockheed Plans Further Job Cuts Due To VH-71 Ending

Lockheed Martin had already cut over one hundred jobs at their Upstate New York facility in Owego. This was mainly due to the decision by Obama and Secretary of Defense Gates to end the VH-71 New Presidential Transport helicopter program. Even though the aircraft was made in Italy Lockheed did all the modifications and integration in Owego.

Despite a great deal of argument and pressure to keep the program going in some form or another the contract was recently terminated. Lockheed is now saying that another seven hundred and fifty people may lose their jobs. Right now they are looking for people to voluntarily leave or retire with a promise of severance. The plan is to begin the layoffs in July based on how many people agree to leave voluntarily.

One of the arguments against ending this and other production programs is that they will just add to the joblessness during the current recession. Of course the defense budget is not really a jobs program and that is fairly poor reasoning to continue spending billions of dollars on a system that does not meet requirements. It is still possible that Congress will pass some form of spending that will keep pieces of the program alive in the 2010 defense budget but that will not be finished until the Fall.

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Uncertainty About The Defense Budget In Ohio

Dayton and Columbus, Ohio are near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB). This is the location of the U.S. Air Force’s Material Command (AFMC) which oversees all acquisition for that service. As such a large number of contractors small and large have work and facilities there as they provide support to AFMC and the various research labs at WPAFB.

Two recent articles from Dayton’s media reflect the concerns people have about Obama’s future defense plans.

First WHIO reports that MacAulay-Brown, Inc. a local company has won two more contracts and may grow so much it will no longer be considered a small business by the U.S. Department of Defense. There are benefits in being in that category when it comes to bidding on contracts but a larger company is capable of winning bigger contracts with more value and work.

Second is the Dayton Daily News which writes that many companies are concerned with the plans to reduce contractor work forces and add government employees. Nobody is usre how that will work and if the jobs will go away in Dayton and be added somewhere else. Will all the current contractors involved in acquisition the prime work at WPAFB just be absorbed into the government or lose their jobs?

This kind of situation will be faced in communities across the U.S. large and small as the policy is implemented. The direct economic effect of all this could be highly negative if contractors are replaced by government people in D.C. or another state. It might not as the contract work force may just transition to civil service. The key economic affect of these jobs is the good salaries and the spending they generate. If those go away due to program cuts or workforce restructuring the effect on a community can be devastating. Look at what Owego, NY is now facing due to the end of the VH-71 program. This could be mirrored across the country in the months to come.

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