News Briefs – December 11, 2017


U.S. Navy prepares to comb sea bed for crashed plane, sailors

The U.S. Navy said it will deploy deep water salvage experts to search for a transport aircraft that crashed in the western Pacific last month, killing three sailors.

The C-2A Greyhound aircraft was traveling to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when it crashed the day before Thanksgiving in the Philippine Sea. Eight people were rescued.

The plane’s last position on the surface is known but the depth of the water exceeds 16,000 feet, the Navy said in a statement Saturday.

A salvage team will depart Japan aboard a contracted salvage vessel in the coming days to deploy a pinger locator to try to pick up the aircraft’s emergency location signal. If successful, the Navy said that additional assets will be deployed to recover the aircraft and the fallen sailors.

The sailors were identified as Lt. Steven Combs Jr. and Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso of Florida and Airman Matthew Chialastri of Louisiana.

One of Combs’ sisters, Elizabeth Combs, said that her brother was piloting the aircraft and managed to settle it in the sea, allowing for the rescue of the eight people. The Navy called Combs’ actions “heroic.”

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet has had two fatal naval accidents in Asian waters this year, leaving 17 sailors dead and prompting the removal of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the 7th Fleet commander. AP

Equipment failure cuts short stealthy destroyer sea trials

The second stealthy destroyer being built for the U.S. Navy cut short its first sea trials because an equipment failure prevented testing of propulsion and electrical systems under full power, officials said Friday.

The problem during builder trials was discovered Dec. 5, a day after the future USS Michael Monsoor left Bath Iron Works, the Navy said.

The Monsoor returned to the shipyard under its own power Dec. 9 and will return to sea after the problem is fixed, the Navy said. The repairs are not expected to impact the ship’s delivery in March.

The first-in-class Zumwalt experienced propulsion problems with seawater leaking into the system that have been repaired.

The Monsoor’s problem was electrical in nature, with the loss of an induction coil causing the failure of another system. The shipbuilder decided it would be more efficient to make the fix at the yard.

The third and final ship in the class is the Lyndon B. Johnson. It’s also under construction at Bath Iron Works. AP

Russian strategic bombers fly patrol mission from Indonesia

The Russian military says its strategic bombers have flown a patrol mission over the Southern Pacific after taking off from Indonesia, part of Moscow’s efforts to restore its Cold War-era military foothold around the world.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the two Tu-95 strategic bombers flew from Biak Island in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province where they arrived Dec. 5. It said the Dec. 7 patrol lasted eight hours.

Russian state television stations reported that the nuclear-capable bombers accompanied by heavy-lift transport planes would spend a few days on Biak, but there was no immediate signal that such visits could continue in the future.

The bombers’ visit to Indonesia marked the first such deployment since Cold War times, when Soviet maritime patrol planes flew over the Pacific from a base in Vietnam. AP

Spirit AeroSystems announces $1B expansion, 1,000 new jobs

Spirit AeroSystems announced a $1 billion expansion Dec. 6 that will bring 1,000 new jobs to its aircraft manufacturing plant in Wichita, Kansas, a move officials say reflects significant growth for the company and the aviation industry in general.

The five-year expansion calls for hiring 800 new employees by the end of 2018 and 200 more the following year. The hourly jobs are estimated to pay around $56,000 annually. The company anticipates to be hiring sheet metal workers, mechanics, composite technicians and machine operators.

Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer touted the announcement as one of the most important for the state in years.

“You know, in this very competitive world, this is how we remain the air capital of the world,” he said.

The project is the culmination of an economic development deal involving city, county and state officials. The Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission plan to vote on investing up to $14.5 million for joint ownership a new building at the site and other infrastructure needs. It is unclear exactly what incentives Kansas is also offering.

“Today air traffic is growing at 7 percent a year, and that is the one statistic underlying the growth of the industry,” Spirit Chief Executive Officer Tom Gentile told government officials and employees.

Boeing and Airbus project that over the next 20 years the industry will need 40,000 new aircraft, he said, noting there are now 26,000 commercial aircraft flying worldwide.

In 2005, Boeing sold its Wichita and Oklahoma operations in a move that spun off the company now known as Spirit AeroSystems. Spirit became an independent supplier of aerostructures for multiple commercial and defense customers.

At the time of that split, Spirit had 7,200 employees and was building 21 Boeing 737 fuselages per month, Gentile said. Today it has more than 11,000 employees and produces 47 of the Boeing 737 fuselages each month. It plans to bump up production to 52 fuselages monthly by next year.

“The amount of growth is continuous. It means we are literally bursting at the seams,” Gentile said. “We have a huge campus here in Wichita. We have been at this site since 1928, but we are really out of room.” AP

Qatar signs on to buy 12 Rafale fighter jets from France

Qatar’s ruling emir and French President Emmanuel Macron signed 12 billion euros ($14 billion) in deals during the French president’s visit to Doha Dec. 7, including the purchase of 12 French-made Dassault Rafale fighter jets with the option of buying 36 more.

The agreement brings the total number of Rafales the Gulf Arab country will have to 36.

Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. As part of a deal negotiated two years ago, Qatar exercised its right to purchase 12 aircraft.

France and Qatar also agreed that Qatar would purchase 490 VBCI armored vehicles from French firm Nexter, and signed a transportation deal with France’s national rail authority to manage and maintain Doha’s planned metro, as well as a light rail system north of Doha.

Qatar announced it would additionally buy 50 Airbus twin-engine A321s with option of buying 30 more.

While in Qatar, Macron traveled to the vast al-Udeid air base, which hosts U.S.-led international coalition operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and the war in Afghanistan.

The air base is home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. France also has a contingent of several hundred French troops in Qatar as part of the 1,200 French forces active in the region in the battle against the IS group.

Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base’s top commanders. AP