The Air Force’s awarding of a contract for Light Support Aircraft (LAS) to Sierra Nevada Corporation for the purchase of 20 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano advanced trainers has turned contentious. Just weeks after Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) went public with its claims of unfair treatment at the hands of the the Air Force and calling foul for a foreign company getting the contract, Sierra Nevada has struck back with a point-by-point refutation of claims by HBC and others against the contract award.
Late last year the Air Force awarded the contract for 20 light air support aircraft to Sierra Nevada, with those first airplanes going to the Afghan Air Force. The U.S. Air Force also hopes to add some of the trainers to its fleet, with more orders possible for future applications. The deal, which will include training and support, could eventually be worth as much as $1 billion.
The Air Force actually disqualified Hawker Beechcraft from the competition earlier on grounds that neither the company nor the Air Force have shared publicly, although the letter making that announcement, HBC says, was lost in the company’s mail system for almost two weeks, wasting precious time to file an appeal of the decision. Since then Kansas congressmen Mike Pompeo has officially protested the move, calling into question the decision to award the contract to a Brazilian aircraft company and claiming the deal would cost 1,500 American jobs.
Last week Sierra Nevada responded to the allegations, claiming that the award was legitimate since HBC’s entrant, an under-development version of the company’s T-6 Texan II, hadn’t fulfilled the terms of the bid. Only the A-29, Sierra Nevada claimed, was a ready-to-fly solution, which was a firm contract stipulation, it claimed. Sierra Nevada also made the case that the Super Tucano would be assembled in Jacksonville, creating 50 jobs there, and that 88 percent of its airplane by value was either American made or made by American partners. Sierra further claimed that HBC was disingenuous in making its “buy American” and jobs arguments, since Canadian firm Onex is a large shareholder in HBC.
Will HBC’s arguments go anywhere, now that it’s been disqualified? There’s precedent. In 2007 Northrop Grumman won a huge contract to build the Air Force’s next generation KC-X tankers using Airbus aircraft only to have that contract award thrown out after strenuous objections from Boeing. Just last February the Air Force awarded the contract, now estimated to be worth $35 billion, to Boeing, which will use modified 767s for the new KC-46A.