U.S. airplane manfacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (HBC) learned this week that the U.S. Air Force awarded the Light Air Support (LAS) contract to the Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and its Brazilian manufacturer Embraer last week, after they were excluded from continuing in the bidding process last month.
The government revealed that the unannounced award apparently was made on Dec. 22, shortly after the Government Accountability Office declined to review Hawker Beechcraft’s protest against its exclusion from the LAS competition. Per federal regulations, federal agencies are generally required to make a public award announcement by 5 p.m. EST on the day of the award.
“This is yet another example of the Air Force’s lack of transparency throughout this competition,” said Bill Boisture, Hawker Beechcraft chairman and CEO in a company press statement. “With this development, it now seems even clearer that the Air Force intended to award the contract to Embraer from early in this process.”
The Air Force selected Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano over Beechcraft’s AT-6 to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations.
Sierra Nevada is being awarded a contract in the amount of $355 million under the LAS program. The initial demand is for 20 LAS aircraft together with ground training devices to support pilot training and support for all maintenance and supply requirements for the aircraft and associated support equipment.
“American warfighters, American workers, and our partner nations all win with this award,” said Taco Gilbert, vice president of ISR Business Development at SNC.
The Embraer A-29 Super Tucano was built specifically for counterinsurgency missions and is currently used by six air forces and on order by others. It has proven extremely capable for LAS missions and is credited with helping the Colombian government defeat the FARC and other governments counter illegal activities. The more than 150 units now in operation around the world have logged over 130,000 flight hours, including more than 18,000 combat hours without any combat loss.
“The LAS bid process received strong support from political leaders and members of Congress from many states, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Oregon,” SNC said in a press statement on Friday.
“The goal of Sierra Nevada’s team, which included its partner Embraer and major suppliers FLIR, based in Oregon, and Elbit Systems of America, based in Texas, was to present the U.S. Air Force and partner nations with the best LAS capability,” Gilbert said. “We appreciate the many members of Congress and other officials who supported a fair and open competition. We are particularly grateful to the many Florida state officials and members of the Florida congressional delegation who assisted in establishing a production facility in their state that will result in the creation of new jobs, bringing prosperity to their communities.”
The A-29 Super Tucano will be built in Jacksonville, Fla. Aircraft training will be provided in Clovis, N.M., and more than 70 U.S. suppliers in 21 states will supply parts or services for this contract. At least 1,200 U.S. jobs will be supported through the contract.
Embraer is now moving to prepare for assembly operations. The new production facility in Jacksonville joins a facility in Melbourne recently opened by Embraer to assemble executive jets.
With a fully developed aircraft, a familiar supply chain and SNC’s expertise in providing in-theater logistical support, commanders in theater will take possession of the first A-29 Super Tucanos on-schedule and on-budget as per the LAS requirements, the company said on Friday.
Beechcraft’s day in court
On Wednesday, Hawker Beechcraft requested that the Court of Federal Claims grant a temporary restraining order to preclude the Air Force from moving forward in the LAS contract process. The court agreed to establish an accelerated schedule for briefings on the temporary restraining order and the legal merits of the case. A ruling on temporary restraining order is expected as early as Jan. 11.
HBC says they still have “no concrete reasons for the exclusion of their Beechcraft AT-6 aircraft from the LAS contract, having been denied explanation by the U.S. Air Force on two occasions.” The LAS contract is valued at nearly $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money.
About the AT-6
The AT-6 is a light attack aircraft that has been evaluated and proven capable through a multi-year, Congressionally-funded program led by the Air National Guard. Hawker Beechcraft and its industrial partners worked closely with the Air Force for two years to develop parameters for the LAS competition and invested more than $100 million preparing to meet the Air Force’s specific requirements for a light attack aircraft. The benefits of the AT-6 far outweigh that of the competition’s offering, including the following important factors:
- Keeping this contract in the U.S. will help preserve 1,400 domestic jobs at 181 companies in 39 states.
- The AT-6 draws its heritage from the airframe of the number-one training aircraft in the world, the Beechcraft T-6. The company has built more than 725 T-6 aircraft, which are used to train every fixed-wing military pilot in the United States and are successfully operated by six allied air forces around the world. The graduation to the AT-6 light attack airplane would be a natural progression.
Hawker Beechcraft has established a website, www.missionreadyat-6.com, so individuals can send a letter to congressional leaders concerning the LAS contract.
Hawker Beechcraft is a manufacturer of business, special mission, light attack and trainer aircraft. The company’s headquarters and major facilities are located in Wichita, Kan.