While Hawker Beechcraft has lodged a protest with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the U.S. Air Force’s decision to exclude the company from the Light Air Support (LAS) competition, the rival team of Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer say they have heard nothing from the service about the status of their proposal.
The decision would appear to leave Embraer’s Super Tucano as the only offering for the LAS contract to supply up to 20 light-attack/advanced-trainer aircraft to the Afghan air force, for delivery beginning in 2013. USAF is to purchase the aircraft with money from the U.S.-bankrolled Afghan Security Forces Fund.
The U.S. Air Force had planned to acquire another 15 aircraft for itself, under the companion Light Armed Aerial Reconnaissance (LAAR) program to provide training for partner nations, but Congress has moved to cut funding requested for the program in fiscal 2012.
Hawker Beechcraft (HBC) announced last week it was seeking a debriefing from the Air Force after being notified its AT-6 had been excluded from the LAS competition. On Nov. 22, after the Air Force “formally denied our second request for a debriefing,” the company says, it requested that GAO review the exclusion decision.
The Air Force says it “continues to be in close contact with all offerors of the LAS competition,” but will not comment on the status of the proposals while still in source selection. “We anticipate awarding the contract late November/early December,” the service says. Proposals were originally received in December 2010.
Although other companies showed interest in the light-attack requirement when it first emerged, only the AT-6 and Super Tucano were evaluated by the Air Force in a flyoff conducted in January as part of the LAS competition.
“We still have no information on why the Beechcraft AT-6 was excluded from the Light Air Support competition,” says Wichita-based HBC in a statement, claiming “HBC’s exclusion from competing for this important contract appears at this point to have been made without basis in process or fact.”
The contest has become increasingly political, with growing “Buy American” opposition to the possibility that Brazilian manufacturer Embraer would win both the LAS and LAAR contracts — despite the fact that U.S. company Sierra Nevada Corp. is prime contractor for the Super Tucano bid and the aircraft would be assembled in Jacksonville, Fla.
In a Nov. 9 letter, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to involve himself in the LAS competition following Embraer’s Nov. 3 disclosure that it is cooperating with a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in three countries.
Meanwhile, LAAR, the more politically contentious of the two programs since the aircraft would be Air Force-operated, is on hold. The acquisition process has not been fully approved, and is awaiting a decision on the 2012 budget, Air Force officials told Congress in October. Given budget constraints, they said, LAAR also is among programs being looked at for cuts.
Photo: Jim Haseltine