Monday, September 24, 2012

Marines experience their worst air disaster in nearly half a century

Posted by John Keller

You may not have heard it like this, but earlier this month one of the worst U.S military air disasters in nearly half a century happened during a terrorist attack on the airfield at Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan.

U.S. Marine Corps Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), based at Yuma Marine Corps Base, Ariz., not only had two Marines killed, but also had six late-model AV-8B II Harrier jump jets destroyed, and another two of the aircraft damaged likely beyond repair.

That's eight sophisticated combat aircraft out of commission. A Marine attack squadron normally has a complement of about 12 aircraft, which means VMA-211 effectively is out of business. The attack has been called the worst Marine Corps aviation disaster since the Vietnam Tet Offensive in 1968.

This squadron has a storied history, and it's unclear what will be the ultimate resolution of this situation. The AV-8B -- designed by Boeing predecessor McDonnell Douglas -- hasn't been manufactured in years, so replacing those aircraft is probably out of the question.

It's possible the squadron eventually could refit with F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters, or perhaps even with the new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters, but whatever happens, it probably won't happen quickly.

For a squadron to switch aircraft is not a trivial process. Pilots must be retrained, ground crewmen must requalify on new aircraft, logistics, support, and maintenance must be retooled. Suffice it to say, this squadron as an independent unit effectively will be grounded for quite some time.

VMA-211 is nicknamed the Wake Island Avengers. It's a name its members take to heart.

On 8 Dec. 1941 -- one day after Pearl Harbor -- the Japanese attacked U.S. forces based on Wake Island in the Western Pacific. In the initial attack, VMA-211 had seven of its 12 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter aircraft destroyed on the ground. The remaining five were destroyed in action, after which VMA-211 became a ground unit until the surrender of Wake Island on 23 Dec. 1941.

VMA-211's Henry T. Elrod, was the first U.S. Marine airman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.

In the terrorist attack in Afghanistan earlier this month, Taliban attackers wore American military uniforms, which added to the confusion. All the attackers reportedly were killed in a firefight, but the damage was done.

We'll have to wait and see what ultimately happens to VMA-211.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

BAE and EADS stand to form the largest defense company in the world

BAE and EADS are currently discussing a possible combination of the two companies. This combination comes in face of shrinking defense budgets and very high competition for defense contracts. The two companies already work together on several different defense projects, such as the Typhoon jet and a joint missile project.

When combined BAE and EADS eclipse the world's current largest defense company, Lockheed Martin, having earned over $20 billion more than Lockheed Martin in sales last year.

BAE and EADS expect there to be many benefits from the potential merger, citing benefits including cost savings, such as from procurement and sourcing efficiencies available to the enlarged group, and substantial new business opportunities.

Any agreement on the terms of a potential combination will require approval by the boards of EADS and BAE Systems. Prior to any such agreement, EADS will inform the relevant bodies representing the interests of its employees in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. If, after completion of the processes described above, EADS and BAE Systems reach definitive agreement on the terms of any combination, completion would be subject to, amongst other things, a number of governmental and regulatory approvals, the approval of ordinary shareholders of both BAE Systems and EADS, and certain conditions that are customary for a transaction governed by the City Code on Takeovers and Mergers.

There is no certainty whether the discussions will lead to any mergers.

Any merger announcement will need to be made by October 10, 2012, though BAE has stated its intention to request an extension if talks are still in place at that point.

If these two companies do merge the result will be a force to be reckoned with. Both EADS and BAE have a lot of strength and long histories in the defense industry. The benefits of the combination seem plentiful, with both companies standing to benefit from the manufacturing capabilities, locations, and established customer base of the other.

Keep following M&AE to find out more as news on the possible combination breaks!

Monday, September 10, 2012

U.S. government takes threat of bird flu pandemic seriously; spends $25 billion for medical countermeasures

Posted by John Keller

Evidently the U.S. government is taking the threat of a global bird flu pandemic very seriously, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded five contracts collectively worth as much as $25.36 billion for medical countermeasures to the H5N1 avian influenza virus.

There is ample reason to take the threat of an H5N1 bird flu pandemic seriously, too. Over the last decade there have been 608 confirmed cases of H5N1 in humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Of those, 359 died; that's nearly a 70 percent mortality rate.

Of those confirmed cases of H5N1 and their resulting deaths, most have been in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Egypt. No cases have been reported in the U.S. -- yet.

To keep any potential H5N1 bird flu pandemic in check, HHS officials on 4 Sept. awarded contracts potentially worth $9 billion to Novartis Vaccines and Diagonostics Inc. in Boston; $8.2 billion to MedImmune LLC in Gaithersburg, Md.; $4.7 billion to Sanofi Pasteur Inc. in Swiftwater, Pa.; $2 billion to GlaxoSmithKline LLC in Philadelphia; and $1.5 billion to CSL Biotherapies Inc. in King of Prussia, Pa.

All contract awards are the maximum amount possible. The contract duration is three years with options for two additional years. Awarding the contracts was the HHS Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The companies will provide the U.S. government with vaccines, support, and medical storage not only for pre-pandemic medicine to help prevent the spread of the H5N1 virus, but also for medicines to treat the virus after it is contracted to alleviate symptoms and prevent deaths.

U.S. health officials are determined to blunt the effects of any potential H5N1 avian influenza pandemic, which could overload hospitals, threaten children and the elderly the most, and could threaten the working of the military and government agencies if large numbers of employees were to be incapacitated by the virus.

Three severe flu pandemics spread throughout the world in the 20th century, the most recent of which was the 1968-1969 Hong Kong Flu pandemic, which involved the H3N2 virus, and is estimated to have killed 1 million people.

In 1957 and 1958 an Asian Flu pandemic involving the H2N2 virus killed an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people. The 20th century's worst flu outbreak was the 1918 to 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic, which involved the H1N1 virus and killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New modified COTS device helps repair engines and airframes before they break

The U.S. Navy has developed a new device that they describe as "doing for aircraft inspections what colonoscopies have done for cancer detection." This device, called the borescope, inspects aircraft and engines while providing real-time digital images and video for examination.

Recognizing cracks and engine debris allow aircraft to last longer by preventing some of the most common reasons for aircraft damage. If a chunk of debris falls into a running engine the blades will often be damaged, or if a crack is allowed to expand the entire aircraft can be rendered inoperable. By recognizing these problems early both lives and money can be saved.

Borescopes were used to detect engine debris in the past, but the systems generated low-quality black and white images and used a rigid probe that prevented the borescope from providing a full inspection of the aircraft and engines it was looking into. The new system features a long, flexible insertion tube with a color screen that allows inspectors to get a 360-degree view of the aircraft or engine, enabling them to find problems previous systems could not locate.

The system is based off of a COTS product, making the system significantly cheaper than legacy borescopes. The new systems cost roughly half the price of old borescopes.

This is a great example of modified COTS products replacing older, more specialized systems while providing better service at a cheaper price. When it comes to repairs and inspection, COTS products make sense as they aren't mission critical devices. Could COTS be part of the solution for surviving on the shrinking defense budget?