Beechcraft appealed the Light Air Support (LAS) decision for the second time to the United States Congress (GAO) in March after the U.S. Air Force re-awarded the LAS program to Sierra Nevada/ in February. The air force originally awarded the contract to Sierra Nevada in December 2011, but that source-selection process was found to be out of compliance with contracting requirements and was set aside in favor of a new competition. Beechcraft’s bid was based on its AT-6.
GAO’s decision would appear to end the drawn-out protest, but Beechcraft is continuing its fight. “It is now time for Congress to step in and put an end to this flawed acquisition process and limit the purchase of the Brazilian aircraft to only that of the Afghanistan requirement covered by the first delivery order of the LAS,” the company says. Officials at Beechcraft, along with leaders at other general aviation companies in Wichita, also say that it doesn’t make sense for U.S. taxpayers to buy a foreign product to be used on foreign shores, because buying a U.S. product would boost U.S. employment, a critical part of rebuilding the U.S. economy.
The battle will continue here this week where both the Embraer Super Tucano and the Beech AT-6C are on static display.
The LAS contract calls for SNC/Embraer to deliver 20 A-29 Super Tucanos for use in Afghanistan next year. This initial order is valued at $427.5 million, but the program could reach more than $950 million in value if other allies opt to purchase the A-29. In addition, Embraer executives say the contract award has renewed interest internationally for the Super Tucano, prompting company officials to conduct a new assessment of the market.
Beechcraft says GAO’s review looked only at whether the air force followed the process, but not at whether the process itself was actually correct. “We question whether the Embraer aircraft with its foreign-made weapons can be certified to U.S. military standards in time to provide the mission-capable aircraft per the contract,” Beechcraft says, adding, “It is deeply distressing that the air force selected a more expensive, less capable, foreign-manufactured airplane with weapons and systems unfamiliar to, and outside the control of, the U.S. military.”
Work is already under way to build a new Embraer final assembly facility for the U.S. aircraft in Jacksonville, Fla. The first aircraft should be through the assembly line there by November. So the A-29 for LAS will have a relatively high U.S. labor contribution and North American parts content.
Proponents of the AT-6C and A-29 Super Tucano may argue the fine points about the performance comparisons, but in reality the aircraft are very closely matched. The Super Tucano, however, has a long and distinguished combat record in Colombia, where the air force has flown it for more than 16,000 hours on day and night missions. It has been in service with theas a trainer and light attack aircraft since 2003 and has been ordered by Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia and Mauritania.