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Air Force Sets Light Air Support (LAS) Contract Award Aside

Air Force leadership acknowledges errors, promises to investigate and correct problems

In candid language, the United States’ top airman acknowledged that the Air Force bungled its program for a Light Air Support (LAS) warplane to support Afghan military forces – and will now kill the program.

“There’s no way to put a happy face on this,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz after the service announced that it would terminate the LAS contract effective March 2, 2012.

Earlier, Air Force officials had dropped the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 Texan II from consideration without a public explanation and subsequently selected the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, also called the A-29B. Marketed in the United States as the “Super T” – apparently out of concern that the word “Tucano” evokes its overseas origin – the latter aircraft was being offered by its Brazilian planemaker with Sierra Nevada Corp as the prime contractor for U.S. sales.

Schwartz called it a “profound disappointment” that irregularities made it necessary to put the brakes on the $355 million awarded to Sierra Nevada and Embraer to buy 20 Super Tucanos for the Afghan military, with options for 15 additional aircraft.

The Air Force boss, in a meeting with reporters in Washington, said that “the documentation of the source selection [authority], which awarded the contract to Sierra Nevada and its sub[contractors] didn’t meet [Air Force] standards.”

“We have to move quickly now,” said Schwartz, to restore the competition, begin again, “and get it done before the funds expire.”

“We have labored diligently to improve our acquisition process,” said Schwartz. He added, “If we fumbled on this, we obviously haven’t arrived at the point where we are providing the level of acquisition excellence that’s expected.”

Gen. Donald Hoffman, Air Force Materiel Command boss, has begun an investigation of “our standard of due diligence and adequacy of oversight,” said Schwartz. This will “help us understand if there are still systemic issues involved,” he said.

In a separate statement, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said his service had fallen short in its pursuit of “perfection” and that that Air Force acquisitions executive David Van Buren was “not satisfied with the quality of the documentation” supporting the contract award to Sierra Nevada.

Schwartz said the Air Force’s “institutional reputation is at stake.” He said airmen will “work their asses off” to learn where the LAS contest went astray and to set things right. If there was anything other than an “innocent” mistake made, “there will be hell to pay,” said Schwartz.

Wichita-based Hawker Beechcraft, which enjoys support from the Kansas congressional delegation, filed a protest shortly after the Air Force passed over its AT-6 aircraft. When the protest did not succeed, the planemaker filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. That suit is still pending. Some observers in Washington question whether the current political climate will allow procurement of the Super Tucano, which is perceived as “foreign” at a time when employment is a domestic U.S. political issue.


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

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23537">

    COOL!, now forget about the chance of selling F-18 to Brasil, and the reason is clear, depending from a foreign maker, is to depend in its own foreign policies, Brasil has no need to embarque itself in a military investment rather in its own infrastructure to grow its own GDP.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-23620">

    You may be right that Brazil might consider this decision when making the call on what fighter to buy for the F-X2 program, but Super Hornet or not, Brazil will buy a fighter made by a foreign power for the program. There is simply no indigenous aircraft that can meet the requirement either now or in the near to mid-future.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23689">

    You are right in a sense, about there is no local plans to approach a home made fighter, but anything takes time, Israel took only ten years to become prevalent as an Aircraft Industrial Complex, also, where is the need for Brasil to embarque in such a collosal military expenditure?

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-23732">
    El Gato Gordo

    Even Israel doesn’t design fighter or other aircraft. They assemble foreign designs, like the F-16 and F-15. They tried an indigenous design, the Lavi, which owed a lot to the F-16. They do fit the aircraft out with many locally designed and built subsystems, particularly electronic warfare system.

    The South Koreans operate similarly. But they built an advanced trainer, the T-50 Golden Eagle that owned a lot to the F-16. Perhaps the US should build those for it’s T-38 replacement needs on a similar basis of local assembly of a (somewhat) foreign design. It’s only downside is the Lockheed-Martin would undoubtedly be the US partner, since they were partners in the design anyway, and LockMart already has a huge slice of the military jet aircraft market in the US so selecting their product might not be politically popular.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23756">

    I think the Lavi was an upgrade of a Mirage, am I wrong ?, the Argies used it against the British in the Falklands conflict.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-23786">

    You’re thinking of the Dagger, Julio. It was an Israeli copy of the French Mirage 5, 30 of which the Israelis had already paid for and hadn’t received when the arms embargo went into effect in 1969. So the Israelis decided to build their own. Whether they had complete blueprints or they were reverse-engineered from secretly shipped Mirage 5s delivered in crates is a matter of debate, but the upshot was the Nesher, as Israel named the fighter, was domestically produced and exported. Some of the surviving Neshers were exported to Argentina and used in the Falklands conflict.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23788">

    You’re right in that the T-50 looks a lot like a baby F-16, at least in plan view, and takes a lot from its bigger brother. I think the T-X program to replace the T-38 is going to have to wait for some time, though, considering budget constraints. Robert F. Dorr recently reported here that the program’s already been postponed a couple of years.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-23789">

    In the longer term, Brazil should definitely be able to produce indigenous tactical aircraft. The country’s industry already builds very good airliners as well as the Super Tucano and others. And of course there’s the AMX, jointly produced with Italy, which has been a success. So the capability is there, it’s just a matter of wanting to make the investment. If the government wants to provide industry with the development funds, with the understanding that it will cost a lot of money and take longer than they would probably like, then I’m sure Brazil would come out at the end with a very good aircraft. But buying from abroad right now is easier and cheaper, and supposedly some of the F-X2 competitors are offering technology offsets that could contribute toward Brazil someday building their own indigenous fighters.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-23965">
    Danny Turner

    Seems to me that military aircraft built for the U.S. millitary should be built in the U.S.A.
    I don’t care if that seems old fashion.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24022">

    Chuck, remember than easier and cheaper has also a price tag, in a long term, Brasil should consider in developing their own fighter than buying now, right now there is no reason for Brasil to embarque in such an unnecessary purchase, rather to invest in their own technology and the study of metals to apply in the design of jet engines, Chile bought a large number of F-16, that is only the name, since the electronics package in the F-16 for Chile has tight limitacions, Chile lost already its opportunity to develop an aircraft industry, now is subjugated and depending from a foreign source.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24034">

    Of course that’s true, Julio. In the long term, it would certainly benefit Brazil to develop its own aircraft. As I wrote, it is a matter of the government having the will to invest the money. In this century Brazil will become an economic powerhouse, and it would make sense to invest in the aerospace industry now so that it will pay off in the future. The problem is that while the long term economic future is bright for Brazil, the immediate future is tough economically, and the bottom line for the government right now is probably not how a big investment now will pay off in two or three decades, but what the bottom line is right now. We both know governments are run by people who often only look as far ahead as the next election, rather than plant trees under whose shade they will never stand.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24037">
    Danny Turner

    The jets should be built by a U.S. company.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24078">

    At the end, money and cohersion buy goverment decisions.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24144">

    I’m afraid that’s all too common anywhere you go, Julio.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-24165">

    I guess we can make a great round table, right ?

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-24683">
    Daniel Kramer

    Brasil could joint-develop de (with Saab) the Gripen NG, as we already did with the AMX and build them within the coutry. As for concerns of the US citizens about the purchase of foreign aircraft lets just remeber what happened back in WW II. When pearl harbour was attacked the US did not have fighter aircraft on the same league as the Zero or the Me-109. So they had to make do with the wildcat, airacobra p-40 and so on. In England the US fighter squadrons received spitfires, built in the UK and for the first time in WW II they had a fighter that could take on a Me-109 on equal terms. The P-47 introduced later was not up to that standard, altough several pilots handled it well enough to get the job done (and the P-47 was a extremely robust aircraft, absorved lots of damage wit no effect). The P-51 only achieved its sucess as a air superiority fighter due to an english engine, the rolls-royce merlin. The Super T will be built in Florida with american workforce and components. Choosing the AT-6 (really a beefed up swiss plane) to CAS role in Afghanistan is like saying to a WW II figther squadron to go to war with the T-6 instead of the T-bolt. The AT-6 is a trainer with attack capabilities, while the Super T is a attack plane from the start of the project. It is tried in combat. It is available now.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-34253">
    Robert Lewis

    The current top down lack of leadership and oversight as well as the inability to clearly define responsibility is causing our military to become a topheavy institution incapable of responding to any given threat in a timely effective manner. our current procurement system was clearly warned against as Dwight D. Eisenhower left office with the words “Beware the Military Industrial Complex”

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-215534">
    Kurt Plummer

    The A-29 has a huge problem. If you want the magic 5hr loiter @ 200nm, you have only three wet hardpoints (out of a total of five) and if you fit the FLIR turret that essentially sterilizes the centerline. Given I don’t believe in engaging in strafe games in a MANPADS environment, with two tanks and two GBU-12/49/54, a section is four passes away from RTB.
    Lighter weight weapons like the APKWS/DAGR and Griffin/Hellfire are not cleared on the Super-T and would still leave it highly restricted in it’s total loadout.
    Comparatively, the AT-6 gives you six pylons (four of which are wet) and has integrated far more CAS-COIN appropriate weapons on them, thanks to an aggressive clearance program by Beech and Lockheed.
    This effectively offsets the smaller aircraft’s wing and powerloading constraints and only leaves robustness in operations from rough forward fields as a viable argument.
    Given our experience in SEA (with the Air Commando squadrons) when we lost as much as 20% of our mission force to operational related issues inherent to flying out of muddy, dusty, poorly maintained, FOLs on the Laotian border; it seems to me that a few million to improve Iraq or AfGs remote runways and provide at least softskin (dust and sun) weather shelters if not full revetments (see: VMA-211s destruction at Camp Bastion) would be a better alternative than assuming that the A-29s higher stance and bulkier design is the sole solution.