Archive for January, 2012

DoD Testers Express Concerns with KC-46A Schedule

One of the issues facing Boeing (BA) and the KC-46A new aerial tanker program is that it is already behind schedule. The Air Force originally planned to award a contract in 2001-2002 timeframe and have new tankers flying before 2010. The contract was not awarded until almost a decade later and the first aircraft will begin service in 2017. This was caused by three attempts to conduct the source selection with Boeing winning the third round from EADS North America, part of EADS (EADS:P).

This has meant the current initial development contract is very short. Boeing is planning on taking commercial B-767 aircraft off of their line, installing a new cockpit from the 787 as well as necessary military gear. They also need to demonstrate that the aircraft is able to meet the requirements of the Air Force and keep it all within cost as Boeing agreed to a fixed price development contract.

The Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (D,OT&E) which is an independent body within DoD responsible for evaluating programs performance as well as their overall test plans releases an annual report reviewing major defense programs and their test plans. They expressed concerns to Congress that the KC-46A is hoping to conduct a very aggressive test campaign. In their report, which may be found on their website here, they write that in their opinion “The DOT&E review of the post-Milestone B draft TEMP indicates the KC-46 test program is not executable.”

This is due for the following reasons:

 

  • The plan requires 42 hours of testing a month compared to an average of 30 on similar large aircraft military programs.
  • It assumes that only 15 percent of the tests would be repeated.  A higher repeat rate adds time to the overall testing program.
  • There is not time in the schedule to fix issues found in Developmental Testing (DT) prior to Operational Testing (OT).
  • There is not enough time allocated to test the fuel boom with Air Force and Navy aircraft.
  • The OT time is too short for the 750 flight hours planned to be flown and D,OT&E calculations estimate that 1,250 hours is the minimum required.

 

The organization recommends a new Test & Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP) be developed that includes a more realistic schedule for testing.

The Air Force, of course, disputes D,OT&E claims and believes the testing schedule is appropriate and executable. They feel that they have structured the program to support a proper OT decision and then into production and service.

The other pressure is on Boeing as an extension of the test program will cost them money. The fixed price contract has already reached a point where there is little slack or money left in it. More flight hours, more tests and more re-work will cost Boeing and reduce the potential for any profit on this contract. The Air Force recognizes this as they add in their defense of the program that they “structured the KC-46 development contract as a fixed price contract to protect the DoD and taxpayers from any cost growth on the program if the test program is not executed as planned.” So Boeing will pay for these issues if any.

D,OT&E can tend to be very conservative when it comes to these types of assessments but that does not mean they are right. One of the biggest issues affecting program development timelines is the need for more testing. Problems are discovered that were not necessarily anticipated and they take time to fix and then there is also time added to do the test again. The KC-46A is probably looking at a test program that will take some amount of time between their estimate and D,OT&E. Even if there is only a little growth it will affect Boeing’s cost and bottom line.

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Recriminations in Kansas for Boeing

As can be expected with Boeing’s (BA) decision to close their Wichita, KS facility and move work to Washington and Texas the politicians who represent the state are not happy. Many Congressman and Senators who provided support to Boeing to win the KC-46A contract from the U.S. Air Force feel betrayed.

They cite the fact that Boeing executives basically promised the work would be done in Kansas if the contract was one creating thousands of jobs in that state.

The Mayor of Wichita, Carl Brewer, feels the same way. He claims Boeing has betrayed the city by their decision. Wichita has invested millions of the taxpayers money in the plant which has been open since the 1930’s and built bombers during World War II and the Cold War. Now in about 24 months it will stop work and the jobs will be eliminated or moved.

The decision by Boeing based the company claims on cost considerations alone highlight what may happen across the U.S. as the defense budget shrinks and programs are cut or eliminated. Similar scenes have happened before in the 70’s and 90’s as military spending has been reduced. Wichita may be the first of many cities this time around.

That, of course, does not make those who supported Boeing feel better but now they may join the Florida and Alabama representatives who tried to aid Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS North America, part of EADS (EADS:P) who worked for those companies to win the KC-X contract. The goal for them of course was investment and jobs in a time when manufacturing ones are hard to find.

As government spending is cut back there will be many other politicians crying foul.

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Boeing to Close Wichita Facility

At a meeting today with its workforce Boeing (BA) announced that it will close their facility in Wichita, KS and move the work from their to Washington state. The closure will take about 2 years and lead to the elimination of over 2,000 jobs.

In their press release Boeing stated “The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers’ needs with the best and most affordable solutions,” said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades division. “We recognize how this will affect the lives of the highly skilled men and women who work here, so we will do everything possible to assist our employees, their families and our community through this difficult transition.”

Even though the plant in Wichita is closing Boeing will still rely on Kansas suppliers for their aircraft programs.

The full press release follows:

Boeing to Close Wichita Facility by the End of 2013

— Defense budget reductions, limited opportunities for new work and competitive cost structure driving need to close facility

WICHITA, Kan., Jan. 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) today announced that the Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) facility in Wichita will close by the end of 2013. The Wichita facility currently employs more than 2,160 employees.

“The decision to close our Wichita facility was difficult but ultimately was based on a thorough study of the current and future market environment and our ability to remain competitive while meeting our customers’ needs with the best and most affordable solutions,” said Mark Bass, vice president and general manager for BDS’ Maintenance, Modifications & Upgrades division. “We recognize how this will affect the lives of the highly skilled men and women who work here, so we will do everything possible to assist our employees, their families and our community through this difficult transition.”

Boeing Wichita is the base for the company’s Global Transport & Executive Systems business and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. The facility also provides support for flight mission planning and integrated logistics.

Over the past five years, contracts in Wichita have matured, programs have come to a close or are winding down, and the site does not have enough sustainable business on the horizon to create an affordable cost structure to maintain and win new business.

“In this time of defense budget reductions, as well as shifting customer priorities, Boeing has decided to close its operations in Wichita to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and drive competitiveness,” said Bass. “We will begin program transitions in the coming months, with the complete closure of the site scheduled for the end of 2013. We do not anticipate job reductions as a result of this decision until early in the third quarter of 2012.”

Bass said that Boeing will continue to have a significant impact on the Kansas economy and the health of the state’s aerospace industry.

“The company spent more than $3.2 billion with approximately 475 Kansas suppliers in 2011, spanning its commercial and defense businesses, making it the fourth largest state in Boeing’s supplier network,” said Bass. “Based on Boeing Commercial Airplanes growth projections for the next few years, Boeing anticipates even more growth for suppliers in Kansas. Boeing values its long-term partnership with Kansas, and we will continue to work with all of our stakeholders in Kansas in support of a robust aerospace industry in the state.”

Future aircraft maintenance, modification and support work will be placed at the Boeing facility in San Antonio. Engineering work will be placed at the Boeing facility in Oklahoma City. Although work on the KC-46 tanker will now be performed in Puget Sound, Wash., the 24 Kansas suppliers on the program will be providing vital elements of the aircraft as originally planned.

Boeing is providing employee assistance including retirement seminars, job search resources, and financial counseling, as well as help finding jobs inside or out of Boeing.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is one of the world’s largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Boeing Defense, Space & Security is a $32 billion business with 63,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

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Boeing May Not Work on KC-46A in Kansas

Update – It has been reported that Boeing has called a mandatory meeting of all its Wichita employees tomorrow. It is also been reported that part of the new contract with the Machinists requires the KC-46A work to be done in Washington if the Wichita site closes.

Previously Boeing (BA) has done a great deal of their work on military and government aircraft at their facility in Wichita, KS. This has included the VC-25 Air Force One version of the 747, the KC-135 tankers and the E-4A command and control aircraft. It was assumed, especially by the Kansas Congressional delegation, that much of the work on the new KC-46A tanker would also be done at the facility.

Now word is leaking out that Boeing is planning on doing all of the necessary tanker effort at their main facility in Everett, WA. The 767 that will be converted to the tankers will be assembled there but rather then being militarized in Wichita they will remain in Washington. This, understandably, has roiled the media, the workers in Kansas and various Senators and Congressmen.

They feel that their support for Boeing to win the contract is now wasted as rather then seeing more work Boeing could be eliminating jobs and laying people off in Kansas.

Boeing has stated that until they understand fully the effects of changes in the U.S. defense budget that they won’t commit to announcing anything about the Wichita plant and their overall work structure. This may not be until later this year. It had been estimated that over 7,000 jobs will be created by the KC-46A militarization and support efforts with the idea that those jobs would be in Kansas. Now that is not guaranteed.

This may be an effect of the new contract Boeing signed with their main union that allowed them to successfully get the U.S. government to drop action against the company for opening a new facility in South Carolina. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had filed a complaint against the company stating that the only reason Boeing expanded to South Carolina was to retaliate against unions in Washington. This was dropped after the company signed a new deal with the union that promised to keep a great deal of jobs in the Northwest.

Boeing intends to use the South Carolina facility to support commercial 787 production.

If the company does not send KC-46A work to Wichita it will cause severe problems with its relations to that state’s Congressional delegation which has in the past been very supportive of Boeing. The next few months could be very interesting for the company, the U.S. aerospace industry and Kansas.

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