Kansas lawmakers are questioning the U.S. Air Force’s selection of the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team for the Light Air Support (LAS) contract, 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.”

The Air Force originally awarded the LAS contract to Sierra Nevada/Embraer in late 2011, but withdrew the award after Beechcraft protested and filed a lawsuit against the decision. That led to a rebid of the contract, which was awarded for a second time to Sierra Nevada/Embraer in late February.

The Air Force on March 4 debriefed both the Sierra Nevada/Embraer team and Beechcraft on its decision, leading Beechcraft to announce that it would file another protest (AWIN First, March 8). Once the protest is filed with the Government Accountability Office, auditors have up to 100 days to review the case and make a determination.

The contract includes an initial order of 20 aircraft for the Afghan air force worth $427 million. Other nations could be added later, increasing the potential value to nearly $1 billion. The aircraft are to be delivered under the Building Partnership Capacity Program, which is designed to share U.S. expertise and capacities, the lawmakers note. But they add that the USAF opted for a foreign-based aircraft design.

Sierra Nevada executives, however, 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.