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A-29 Super Tucano Wins Light Air Support Contract

The U.S. Air Force announced February 27 that the turboprop Embraer EMB-314B Super Tucano won the $427 million Light Air Support, or LAS, contract to supply 20 aircraft to the Afghan Air Force. Earlier, the Pentagon assigned the military designation A-29 to the Super Tucano, the same term used in Brazil. The U.S.-purchased Super Tucanos for Afghanistan will be designated A-29B models.

The A-29 Super Tucano will provide the Afghan Air Force with light air support. NATO Training Mission photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Fahey

The A-29 Super Tucano will provide the Afghan Air Force with light air support. NATO Training Mission photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Fahey

Sierra Nevada Corp., or SNC, of Sparks, Nev., is prime contractor for the LAS project, partnered with Brazil’s Embraer, which designed the aircraft and builds it for other countries. The LAS Super Tucanos will be assembled at a plant in Jacksonville, Fla.

“It is a great honor to serve our country by providing the aircraft, training, and support for this program,” said Taco Gilbert, Sierra Nevada’s vice president of integrated tactical solutions, in a company news release. Defense Media Network was unable to reach anyone at SNC for comment.

Afghan air force pilot candidates stand at attention during an official ceremony recognizing their efforts in the AAF Conference Center, Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 17, 2011. The resolution of the Light Air Support contract means the Afghan Air Force can start to remedy a capabilities gap. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith

Afghan air force pilot candidates stand at attention during an official ceremony recognizing their efforts in the AAF Conference Center, Kabul, Afghanistan, Nov. 17, 2011. The resolution of the Light Air Support contract means the fledgling Afghan Air Force can start to remedy a capabilities gap. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith

The contract includes not only aircraft but associated maintenance and training support. The “win” for the Sierra Nevada/Embraer industry team was a setback for Beechcraft Corporation (formerly Hawker Beechcraft), which competed with its turboprop AT-6 Texan II. Beechcraft announced its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy on February 19 and still hopes to sell the AT-6 elsewhere.

Under the terms of the LAS contract, deliveries of the A-29B to Afghan bases at Shindand and Kandahar will begin in summer 2014 at a rate of two aircraft per month. The Afghans will use the A-29B for advanced flight training, surveillance, close air support, and air interdiction.

The Air Force initially awarded SNC the LAS contract in December 2011, but subsequently terminated it following a protest by then-Hawker Beechcraft and an internal Air Force investigation that turned up deficiencies in the service’s source-selection paperwork. In a statement, Lt. Gen. Charles R. Davis, military deputy for acquisition in the Air Force at the Pentagon, said, “I am confident that the source selection process was disciplined and meticulous” this time.

Asked whether it would appeal the selection, Beechcraft said, “We are disappointed that our proposal was not chosen. We will meet with the [Air Force] for a full debrief of the award and determine our next steps forward at that time.”

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Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...