Planemaker Hawker Beechcraft says it has not been told why its aircraft was excluded and has protested to the Government Accountability Office.
The company said it has been working with the Air Force for two years and has invested more than $100 million to meet Air Force requirements. Hawker Beechcraft said it made two attempts to get a debriefing from the Air Force before it filed the protest.
“We have followed the Air Force’s guidance close, and based on what we have seen, we continue to believe that we submitted the most capable, affordable and sustainable light attack aircraft,” the company said.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan), an AT-6 supporter, said: “I have already demanded answers from the Pentagon on why they made this very unfortunate decision, and will continue to do so. This contract is critical both to our nation’s security and to jobs in Wichita.”
LAS Program Future
The rival team of Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer, who are offering Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano, also called the A-29B, say the Air Force has not informed them of the status of their proposal.
The LAS program is for up to 20 aircraft for the Afghan air force for delivery beginning next year, funded by the U.S.-provided Afghan Security Forces Fund. The contract could total $1 billion when supporting facilities are included. It has the potential to lay the foundation for additional overseas purchases for a total of 55 to 60 aircraft.
The disqualifying of the AT-6 is the latest development in a study of light armed warplanes that dates to 2007. The Air Force once hoped to acquire 100 Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance aircraft (LAAR) to be operated by U.S. special operations forces in counterinsurgency wars like the one in Afghanistan. More recently, the Air Force reduced its planned LAAR purchase to 15 airframes. Congress cut funding requested for LAAR in the current fiscal year, 2012, and the program appears now to be dead. Earlier this year, lawmakers also rejected a $17 million U.S. Central Command request for an in-theater evaluation of four Super Tucano-type airframes under the Combat Dragon II program.
These developments appear to leave the AT-6 with nowhere to go. Hawker Beechcraft built two AT-6 demonstrator aircraft. The company has been conducting a highly visible flight and weapons demonstration for the past two years. The planemaker is in Wichita and the aircraft remains a favorite of the Kansas congressional delegation.
Hawker Beechcraft says that winning the LAS contract would have kept its T-6 production line running after 2015. About 1,400 employees in 20 states, including 800 in Wichita, work on the AT-6 and T-6 programs.
In what appears to be a disconnect between Capitol Hill and the Pentagon, legislators like the AT-6, which is essentially a modified trainer, while military people appear to favor the Super Tucano, which was designed from the outset for war duties. The AT-6 can carry a machine gun externally, at some sacrifice in aeronautical drag and performance, while the Super Tucano has internal guns.
To complicate matters, before the AT-6 was dropped, Embraer, the world’s third-largest commercial aircraft producer, announced that it is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for corruption. Some observers noted that Embraer went to the trouble to issue its statement on Nov. 2, which in Brazil is a public holiday called Dia de Finados, or Day of the Dead. The company “retained outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation,” Embraer said.
While the investigation is unrelated to the Super Tucano aircraft, the plane has been a target of lawmakers like Pompeo, who calls the Super Tucano “foreign.” Before the AT-6 decision, Pompeo wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Nov. 9 asking to be kept “fully informed.”