SNC, Embraer Picked for USAF LAS Deal ... Again

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With its Brazilian platform manufacturer, Sierra Nevada has once again defeated Hawker Beechcraft for the U.S. Air Force’s Light Attack Support aircraft contract.

The winning team, offering the A-29 based on Embraer’s Super Tucano, originally beat out  Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6 option in December 2011. But, the Air Force was quickly forced to stop work on the contract after the latter lodged a protest of the source selection. Findings of government auditors prompted the Air Force to redo the competition, leading to today’s announcement.

The $427,459,708 deal calls for delivery of 20 aircraft to the Air Force for use in Afghanistan beginning in the summer of 2014, a slight adjustment to earlier plans for delivery in early 2014 as a result of the procurement slip. With a production rate of two aircraft per month, the last is due in Afghanistan in April 2015. Prompt delivery is critical, as these aircraft are to be left behind for Afghan forces as the White House pulls soldiers out of Afghanistan in 2014.

The aircraft will be used for flight training, close air support, intelligence collection and other security missions there.

This is an indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery contract worth up to $950 million; the intention is for other allies to procure the aircraft. “Its like the modern version of the F-16,” says USAF Brig. Gen. (ret.) Taco Gilbert, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business development director for Sierra Nevada.

Sierra Nevada was favored to win in part because of its earlier win. During the period of the second competition, Hawker Beechcraft emerged from bankruptcy and managed to do more testing on its aircraft. Still, however, the progress clearly did not convince the Air Force. “We are disappointed that our proposal was not chosen,” says Nicole Alexander, a spokeswoman for Hawker Beechcraft. “We will meet with the USAF for a full debrief of the award and determine our next steps forward at that time.” A protest is possible, though the Air Force took great pains to follow all procurement rules closely to avoid another delivery delay.

One congressional staffer, however, suggested that if the Brazilian manufacturer’s platform is chosen, lawmakers could run to the aid of Hawker Beechcraft, especially after its recent financial struggles, in a “buy American” fervor.

Gilbert, however, argues that assembly will take place in Jacksonville, Fla., and that 86% percent of the A-29’s components already come from the United States or “qualified” allied nations, including 100 suppliers in 20 states.

The company will begin fabricating the major structures on the existing line in Brazil immediately, Gilbert says, while in parallel the assembly line will begin to be established in Jacksonville.

Sierra Nevada is confident the facility in Jacksonville can be quickly established based on Embraer’s recent work standing up a business jet manufacturing center in Fort Lauderdale. “That gave us great confidence that this is not new territory,” Gilbert says.

The contract also calls for Sierra Nevada to train U.S. trainers who will then train the Afghan forces. Gilbert says the training is slated to take place at the municipal Clovis air field in New Mexico.

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