Although the U.S. Air Force has ordered Sierra Nevada/Embraer to stop work on the Light Air Support (LAS) contract that the team won Feb. 27, the service hopes the hold will only be temporary.

Lt. Gen. C.R. Davis, the principal deputy for Air Force acquisition, says the stop-work order was issued as standard procedure once the service was informed of losing bidder Beechcraft’s decision to protest. The company announced it would protest the Air Force award March 8. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has 100 days from the date of the protest to render a decision on its merit.

A service can opt to continue work if it demonstrates that doing so is in the national interest. The Air Force is reviewing whether it is justified in invoking this privilege.

The LAS contract is worth up to $950 million. The first of 20 LAS aircraft are expected for delivery to Afghanistan forces early next year; the program is considered critical to allowing the U.S. Air Force to begin pulling its own combat aircraft out of the country in 2014.

The order for the 20 aircraft and training is expected to cost no more than $427 million. But the contract allows for orders from other allies.

Sierra Nevada/Embraer won with the A-29 Super Tucano-based design, while Beechcraft lost with its AT-6 proposal. It was the second iteration of the competition — Sierra Nevada also won the earlier round, but after Beechcraft protested the award was overturned and recompeted.

Davis spoke to reporters March 12 during a break in the Credit Suisse/McAleese Defense Programs conference in Washington.

Meanwhile, Kansas lawmakers are questioning the U.S. Air Force’s selection of the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team, saying the apparent factors behind the decision were unreasonable and that the decision has national economic implications.

In a letter to recently confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Sen. Pat Roberts (R), Sen. Jerry Moran (R) and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) expressed concern that the Air Force opted for Sierra Nevada even though the bid by Kansas-based Beechcraft was up to 30% less expensive.

“As the nation is facing immense financial hurdles, including a trillion dollar cut to the Department of Defense over the next decade, it seems unwise to select a higher-priced supplier,” the lawmakers say. They also point to the potential preservation of 1,400 jobs in Beechcraft’s bid, and note this is important given the unemployment rate.

The Air Force decision was apparently based on concerns over whether Beechcraft’s AT-6 would receive timely certification, they say.

“This is an unreasonable concern given the history of its aircraft certification both in the civil and military spheres,” they contend.

“Additionally, the accelerated timeline in this competition is due directly to the failures of the Air Force in the previous LAS procurement process, which caused nearly a year’s delay.”

Sierra Nevada executives say 86% of the parts for the Embraer-built A-29 are sourced from U.S. or allied countries. Embraer plans to ship structures from Brazil and assemble them in Jacksonville, Fla.

The lawmakers asked Hagel for a “thorough, compelling” explanation of the Air Force decision.

Beechcraft only recently emerged from bankruptcy under its previous flag, Hawker Beechcraft; a win would be a major boon for the rebranded company.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Sierra Nevada's teammate on LAS.