Days after its bid protest was dismissed by congressional auditors, Hawker Beechcraft is turning to the courts to try to force a reinstatement of its aircraft in the U.S. Air Force’s Light Air Support (LAS) competition.

The company filed suit against the Air Force on Dec. 27 in the Washington-based U.S. Court of Federal Claims, seeking to negate a November decision to exclude the Beechcraft AT-6 from the competition to provide 20 light-attack/advanced-trainer aircraft to the Afghan air force (Aerospace DAILY, Nov. 23, Dec. 26).

The downselect appears to leave the Brazilian Embraer Super Tucano as the only offering for the LAS contract, which is expected to be worth nearly $1 billion.

“I’m interesting in making sure the AT-6 is properly understood by the U.S. Air Force,” Hawker Beechcraft Chairman and CEO Bill Boisture said in an interview, asserting that the aircraft would be less costly than the Super Tucano and offer equal or better capabilities. “We’re filing the suit to press the issue.”

The exclusion of the AT-6 from the LAS was a big blow for Hawker Beechcraft, a struggling company that has counted on the military market to help offset a brutal downturn in sales of its business jets. The company’s initial protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) — the investigative arm of Congress — was dismissed on Dec. 22.

GAO’s ruling did shed some light on the rationale behind the Air Force’s rejection of the AT-6 after the service declined to provide an explanation to the company. According to the GAO, the Air Force concluded that Hawker had not adequately corrected deficiencies in its proposal and that “multiple deficiencies and significant weaknesses found in the proposal make it technically unacceptable and results in unacceptable mission capability risk.”

At the time, Hawker said it was “disappointed” in the GAO’s ruling and reiterated its charge that the bidding process was filled with “inconsistent, irregular and constantly changing requirements.”

The Air Force plans to purchase the aircraft with money from the U.S.-bankrolled Afghan Security Forces Fund. The service also was looking to buy more aircraft for itself to use to train allied forces, although that move might be delayed or canceled by Congress as Washington wrestles with tight budgets. Though 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.

Boisture says it is unclear whether the Air Force will hold off awarding the LAS contract while Hawker Beechcraft’s suit is pending. But he vows to keep fighting. “I don’t think this is near over.”