The U.S. Federal Claims Court has ruled that the U.S. Air Force rightly allowed Sierra Nevada and to continue work on the first 20 A-29 Super Tucanos for the Light Air Support (LAS) program, despite protests by losing bidder Beechcraft.
The decision clears the way for the winning team to continue pushing to deliver aircraft for use in Afghanistan next year.
Beechcraft, which emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year, protested its February loss of the $427.5 million LAS contract with the. The company also filed suit in federal court requesting the service halt Sierra Nevada’s work pending the outcome of the GAO review.
The service had directed the winning bidder to continue work — counter to typical procedure in the case of a protest — citing an urgent need for the aircraft. They will be used by Afghan forces for light attack missions as the U.S. Air Force pulls out of the region in 2014.
“While we reluctantly accept the court’s opinion, we will continue to contest this award through the GAO and as a program of record for building partnership capacity with other nations that desire Light Air Support aircraft,” Beechcraft says in a statement.
Company officials object to their loss, claiming the AT-6 offering was substantially less expensive and that U.S. aerospace jobs are at risk given the choice of the Embraer platform. Jobs, however, were not a factor in the source selection and pricing was weighed against the utility of the aircraft.
The court ruling is a significant win for the Air Force. Its acquisition corps has been embarrassed by some high-profile procurement missteps that dragged out source selections and delivery of combat rescue helicopters and aerial refuelers critical to their missions. Air Force officials have been working hard to improve training for their procurement ranks and shore up oversight for buying decisions for several years.
“. will continue work on the LAS contract while Beechcraft’s bid protest proceeds at the Government Accountability Office, which will decide the merits of the protest,” says Ed Gulick, an Air Force spokesman. “Continued work on the LAS contract honors the U.S. Air Force’s critical and time-sensitive commitment to provide air support capability to the Afghan Air Force.”
Though Sierra Nevada’s win is for the first 20 aircraft, the total value of LAS could reach nearly $1 billion if other allies opt to purchase the A-29.
GAO auditors are continuing their review of Beechcraft’s protest; a decision is expected by June.