Citing the need for “corrective action,” the U.S. Air Force canceled its $355 million contract with Sierra Nevada for an initial 20 Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos under the Light Air Support (LAS) program. Competing contractor Hawker Beechcraft had challenged the award in federal court. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley said, “Air Force senior acquisition executive David Van Buren is not satisfied with the quality of the documentation supporting the award decision.”
The Air Force notified Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft in November that the AT-6 had been excluded from the LAS bidding process. Hawker Beechcraft then asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the decision. The GAO dismissed the protest on December 22. That same day, the Air Force awarded the LAS contract to Sierra Nevada. Hawker Beechcraft filed suit against the government December 28 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. The Air Force issued a stop-work order to Sierra Nevada on January 4.
The impact of the Air Force decision on the LAS program to supply the Afghan air force with a light attack aircraft was not immediately known. In a brief statement February 28, the Air Force said it would investigate the award. A court filing by the government stated that the Air Force would reopen the competition for the LAS requirement. Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, one of more than 20 lawmakers who wrote the Air Force after Hawker Beechcraft was excluded from the competition, said the Air Force “entered into a contract with a supplier and they’ve now had to cancel that contract. That is evidence alone that the process was a failure.”
Hawker Beechcraft and industrial partners say they have invested more than $100 million in the light attack derivative of the T-6 trainer, which has been evaluated by the Air National Guard in a congressionally funded program. There have been 725 T-6s built, and “the graduation to the AT-6 would be a natural progression,” the company says.
Embraer and Sierra Nevada expressed disappointment with the announcement. Taco Gilbert, Sierra Nevada vice president of ISR business development, said the company’s LAS submission “fully met the requirements of the U.S. Air Force request for proposal.”
Hawker Beechcraft Corp. chairman Bill Boisture said, “This LAS competition is about much more than 20 aircraft for Afghanistan or a billion-dollar contract...it is about the U.S. Air Force’s ability to build relationships with U.S. partner nations around the world for a generation to come.”