Air Force LAS Contract On Hold

 - January 24, 2012, 10:33 AM

When the U.S. Air Force announced on December 22 that it had selected Sierra Nevada and its Brazilian partner Embraer as the winner in the competition to build a light air support aircraft, not everyone was happy, in particular Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft, a competitor for the same contract.

Hawker Beechcraft had been promoting the AT-6, a light support aircraft variant of its T-6 trainer, and according to HBC chairman and CEO Bill Boisture the company and its partners have spent $100 million on the project.

“We were caught completely by surprise when we were excluded from bidding,” he told AIN. “This allowed the Air Force to make a single-source award [and] that’s why we went to GAO and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.”

The move forced the Air Force to issue a stop-work order with regard to the contract while the court examines Hawker Beechcraft’s claim to determine whether due process was followed in determining to whom the contract should be awarded, and whether the rules regarding the acquisition process were followed.

“We strongly believe we have a more capable and lower cost aircraft, [and] importantly it is also built right here in the United States,” said Boisture, who told AIN that HBC’s AT-6 will cost about 26 percent less than Embraer’s EMB-312 Super Tucano.

He also noted that the Lockheed Martin weapons system in the AT-6 is adapted from that of the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt in which it was battle proven, and that the sensor package came from Hawker Beechcraft’s special-missions King Air and has seen extensive use in Afghanistan.

Boisture also emphasized the importance of the contract to Hawker Beechcraft employees and to the Wichita aerospace base. “We’re offshoring jobs if we go to the competitor product,” he claimed, adding, “If the contract goes to Embraer, it will affect more than 1,200 jobs in the U.S.”

While the Super Tucano has its origins as a trainer made by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, in its light air support guise the airplane has 18,000 hours in combat on a global stage, “with not one aircraft lost,” according to U.S. partner Sierra Nevada.

As to the claim of outsourcing and loss of jobs in the U.S., Sierra Nevada points out that 88 percent of the firms providing components for the Super Tucano are in compliance with the “Buy America Act.”

Further, Embraer plans to open a plant in Jacksonville, Fla., where it will employ 50 technicians assembling the Super Tucano to fill the initial Air Force contract. In addition to 50 high-skill level employees who will be involved in assembling the airplanes, Sierra Nevada says the project will employ 1,200 people at 71 direct and indirect vendors and suppliers in 21 states in support of the project.

The contract at this point calls for delivery of a total of 20 airplanes and has a value of $355 million. With additional orders, the contract could be worth as much as $950 million under the IDIQ (indefinite, delivery, indefinite quantity) contract.

Motions by all parties involved are to be filed with the claims court by the first week in March and a decision is expected later that month.