November 13, 2017

News Briefs – November 13, 2017

Southern California plant flourishing under bomber program

PALMDALE, Calif.–Call it the bomber boom.

A Northrop Grumman contract to build top-secret B-21 stealth bombers has brought more than a thousand new employees to the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles.

The U.S. Air Force contract for 100 of the bat-winged aircraft is estimated to run about $80 billion. The funding has wide support in Congress.

Since Northrop won the contract two years ago, the pace of activity at its Palmdale plant has ramped up.

New employees are working out of trailers and tents. Construction crews are preparing to add 1 million square feet of space to the facility, increasing its size by 50 percent, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The plant has 3,000 employees and expects that to grow to 5,200 by late 2019, Kevin Mitchell, deputy vice president of global operations, recently told a Chamber of Commerce meeting in neighboring Lancaster.

The increased workforce probably will spark housing and commercial development, he said.

Northrop also is reaching out to train employees as it seeks hundreds of workers ranging from machinists to flight test engineers. The company is working with Antelope Valley College, which recently developed an eight-week training program for aircraft fabrication and assembly, college spokeswoman Liz Diachun told the Times.

Military projects have reinvigorated Southern California’s aerospace industry, which shrank in the decades after World War II.

Northrop’s Palmdale facility also produces high-altitude surveillance drones for the Air Force and the Navy and the center fuselage for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Secret contracts such as the B-21 made up more than 20 percent of Northrop sales last year.

The B-21 program won’t be just a flash in the pan, predicted Mike Blades, a securities analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

About 30 percent to 50 percent of the Air Force’s $2 billion B-21 budget for fiscal 2018 is flowing through Northrop, Blades told the Times.

“By far, it is going to be the largest source of their funding,” he said. “It is going to be a big deal for a long time.”

U.S. carries out 3 drone strikes against extremists in Somalia

The U.S. military command in Africa says it carried out three drone strikes against Islamic extremists in Somalia within 24 hours, stepping up their campaign against al-Shabab and the Islamic State group.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Africa command told The Associated Press Nov. 12 that the attacks by unmanned drones killed several extremist fighters. She said that with these three attacks, the U.S. has now carried out 26 strikes in Somalia against extremist targets in 2017.

Two of the strikes were against al-Shabab, which is allied to al Qaeda and has been waging a war for 10 years to establish rule by Shariah law in Somalia.

The third U.S. strike was in northern Somali against the Islamic State group, which has established itself in Somalia over the past two years. AP

Iraqi military helicopter crashes, 3-member crew killed

Iraq’s Defense Ministry says a military helicopter has crashed during a training exercise, killing all three crew members on board.
The statement says the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed Nov. 12 morning in the central Wasit province. The cause of the accident was not immediately known. The ministry had initially reported that seven crew members died.
The province is located about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, far from the front lines of the war with the Islamic State group. U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have driven the extremists from nearly all the territory they once controlled, with some fighting still ongoing near the western border with Syria. AP

U.S. military: Annual Gulf exercise at risk over Qatar crisis

A U.S. Air Force general warned Nov. 12 that a major annual military exercise between Gulf Arab countries and America is at risk over the ongoing diplomatic crisis engulfing Qatar.

Eagle Resolve, which sees countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council send forces alongside Americans to simulate working as a multinational force in battle, is being examined in light of the crisis, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian said.

This year’s Eagle Resolve exercise, held in Kuwait in March, involved 1,000 U.S. troops.

Another leadership course already has been cancelled over the crisis, Harrigian said. The Associated Press in October first reported exercises were at risk over the monthslong dispute.

“We continue to look at each and every exercise and have discussions,” said Harrigian, who oversees Air Force Central Command in Qatar. He acknowledged that includes Eagle Resolve.

The Qatar crisis began June 5, when Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched an economic boycott while closing off the energy-rich nation’s land border and its air and sea routes. The quartet of Arab nations pointed to Qatar’s alleged support of extremists and overly warm ties to Iran. Qatar long has denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran that makes its citizens have the highest per-capita income in the world.

The Qatar diplomatic crisis has torn apart the typically clubby GCC, a regional Arab bloc created in part as a counterbalance to Iran. The U.S. military holds exercises in part to build the confidence of local forces, many of which use American-made equipment.

U.S. and Gulf allies also have regularly held joint, smaller-scale exercises in the region. AP

China’s new passenger jet finishes first long-haul flight

China’s homegrown passenger jet touched down safely after its first long-haul test flight Nov. 12, bringing the nation one step closer to competing directly with aircraft giants in Europe and America.

China hopes to develop its C919 jet to compete with popular single-aisle jets such as the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.

State media said the plane lifted off the tarmac in Shanghai and flew west about 800 miles to the city of Yanliang.

The test flight comes on the heels of a state visit by U.S. President Donald Trump during which China signed on to buy 300 Boeing jetliners for $37 billion and $2.5 billion worth of General Electric jet engines, alongside energy and telecom deals worth a total of $253.4 billion.

The C919 was originally due to begin flying in 2014 and be delivered to buyers in 2016, but has been beset by delays blamed on manufacturing problems. It’s now unlikely to carry commercial passengers until at least 2019.

The jet’s development is a key step on the path laid out by Chinese leaders to transform the country from the world’s low-cost factory into a creator of profitable technology. AP

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