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NEWS IN BRIEF 21 FEB 05

11 Feb 05. Thirty U.S. Air Force C-130E cargo aircraft, a workhorse turboprop built by Lockheed Martin Corp., have been grounded because of cracks in their wing structure, the service’s Air Mobility Command said on Friday. In addition to those grounded, another 60 C-130s, including more recent models, were put on “restricted flight status” to minimize wing stress and increase the safety margin, the command said. Among the aircraft grounded Thursday were ones assigned to Pacific Air Forces, US Air Forces in Europe, the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command as well as to the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, a statement said. On Thursday, Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, told U.S. senators the service was rethinking its plan to end purchases of Lockheed’s more advanced C-130J aircraft in the coming fiscal year, without drawing a specific link to the grounding of the E models. “I fully believe … we’ll revisit this decision here in the months to come,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said program cancellation costs appeared to be higher than originally projected by the Air Force. Deliveries of the original C-130 began in December 1956 and the E models, those just grounded, were introduced in 1962. In reply to questions, Jumper discounted criticism of the performance of the C-130J, the most recent addition to the inventory. The Pentagon’s former chief weapons tester, Thomas Christie, faulted the aircraft in an annual weapons assessment for Congress made public last month, saying it was “neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable” in his evaluation’s first phase. The 30 C-130E aircraft were grounded after inspections showed cracks to a “center wing box structure” were greater in number and severity than originally expected, the command said. Comment: This announcement comes at a time when reports in the Sunday Times suggested that the RAF C-130 crash may have been caused by metal fatigue on the wing root.

18 Feb 05. Reuters reported that Congressional investigators on Friday ruled against Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA – News) in a protest by rival Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT – News) over a U.S. Air Force contract to build small guided bombs, potentially worth $2.5bn. The Government Accountability Office, an arm of Congress, said it was sustaining a Lockheed protest of the Small Diameter Bomb contract and urged the Air Force to seek competitive bids for part of the contract requirements. Lockheed challenged the deal and three others after Darleen Druyun, the Air Force’s former No. 2 weapons buyer, confessed to improperly steering billions of dollars of contracts to Boeing before taking a $250,000-a-year executive’s job there. GAO, acting as a kind of court in the matter, said Druyun had been involved in changes to bomb evaluation factors, “including deletion of specific technical requirements.”

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