Less than two weeks after making a source selection, the U.S. Air Force has suspended work on the $355 million Light Air Support (LAS) contract under which it agreed to purchase 20 Brazilian-designed Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano aircraft.
Air Force officials say the “stop work” order is prompted by a lawsuit filed by Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, the manufacturer of the rival AT-6B Texan II.
However, the lawsuit was filed weeks ago. Observers believe the decision to suspend the contract is a response to reactions by lawmakers to the handling of the LAS competition.
On Dec. 22, the Air Force made the award without an announcement to prime contractor Sierra Nevada Corp., which was to work with Brazilian planemaker Embraer. Almost a month earlier, on Nov. 25, the service dropped the AT-6B Texan aircraft from consideration in the LAS competition, again without an announcement. It was that action, not the source selection, that promoted Hawker first to protest to the Government Accountability Office and then take legal action.
Despite its name, the Texan II is manufactured in Wichita. When it was dropped, the move puzzled and angered the plane’s maker and the Kansas congressional delegation. Typical was Sen. Pat Roberts (D-Kan) who said Hawker Beechcraft deserves more answers as to why it was excluded from the competition. “On every turn, the Air Force has denied the company and the congressional delegation the opportunity to understand why it made the decision,” Roberts said in a statement.
Even though they made no announcement about dropping the AT-6B or about choosing the Super Tucano, Air Force officials insist there has been “transparency” in the LAS process. “The Air Force is confident in the merits of the contract award decision and we expect the litigation will be quickly resolved,” Lt. Col. Wesley P. Miller told the Associated Press on Jan. 5. “We are trying to do everything we can to do this right and make sure that it is done because the thing to keep in mind is that this contract is a wartime support contract for a partner in conflict – and so involves a sense of urgency and mission accomplishment.”
The lawsuit, now in U.S. District Court, requests a temporary restraining order that would block the Super Tucano purchase. Miller said the Air Force decided put its own stop work order in place before the court ruled.