Beechcraft has once again opted to protest its loss of the U.S. Air Force Light Air Support contract to a Sierra Nevada/ team.
The LAS contract is worth up to $950 million. Once the protest is filed with the, auditors have up to 100 days to review the case and make a determination.
“Our belief that we have the best aircraft was confirmed by the Air Force rating our aircraft ‘exceptional’ and the fact that we are the lower-cost solution was confirmed by the’s public award announcement,” says CEO Bill Boisture, adding that he was “perplexed” by the service’s decision.
“We simply don’t understand how the Air Force can justify spending over 40% more — over $125 million more — for what we consider to be less-capable aircraft,” he said.
Beechcraft only recently emerged from bankruptcy under its previous flag,; a win would be a major boon for the rebranded company.
Last year, the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team won the original LAS competition, which was followed by a protest and lawsuit from Beechcraft. The Air Force opted to reissue a request for proposals and start a new competition, which led to the Feb. 27 selection of the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team once again.
The recompeted contract includes an initial order of 20 A-29-based aircraft for the Afghan air force worth $427 million; other nations could later be added to the contract for work worth nearly $1 billion. The rivals were debriefed on the decision by the Air Force March 4, according to Ed Gulick, a service spokesman.
The service has not yet opted whether to follow standard procedure and issue a stop-work order to Sierra Nevada pending the Government Accountability Office’s review of Beechcraft’s claims. It is possible that the service could waive the requirement and claim operational urgency to continue the work; the aircraft are due in Afghanistan starting early next year. Their arrival is tied to the ability of U.S. forces to pull out of Afghanistan in concert with White House plans.
In its announcement, Beechcraft cites the lower price of its bid, the LAS program’s tattered history (including last-year’s protest and subsequent lawsuit) and concern over U.S.-based jobs. “An estimated 1,400 jobs in Kansas and other states are in jeopardy as a result of the Air Force decision,” company officials say.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers quickly backed Beechcraft’s protest announcement. “I don’t know why the U.S. government is bending over backward to accommodate Brazil in the midst of sequestration, but this is a real blow to American workers and taxpayers,” says Tom Buffenbarger, the union president. “The claim by Embraer that most of their plane would be ‘built in the USA’ adds insult to the injury of the 1,400 jobs that will be destroyed here at home.”
These are jobs associated with Beechcraft’s T-6 work that would transfer to the LAS line if the company had won.
Though these arguments may garner support in Congress, they are not necessarily grounds for a protest unless the Air Force included them in the source-selection criteria and either misrepresented them or did not follow its own stated process in choosing a winner.
Eight-six percent of the parts for the A-29 are sourced from U.S. or allied countries, says Taco Gilbert, business development vice president for Sierra Nevada’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business.