Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Acquisition Mis-step Again

It seems the United States Air Force is snake bit again.  First it was the knife fight over a replacement tanker to replace the KC-135 fleet which is still a mess.  Then there was the duel for the CSAR-X contract for a replacement combat rescue helicopter.  Now we have the mess for the Light Air Support [LAS] contract that is supposed to supply 20 aircraft to the Afghan government.  It has now been cancelled and is being investigated.  Air Force Material Command is talking of focusing on a lack of documentation on how the decision awarding the contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation [SNC] was reached, this bodes ill for the people at Wright-Patterson AFB involved in the solicitation.  Some involved in the KC-X debacle went to jail remember.

Hawker Beechcraft filed suit after its AT-6B was disqualified without any reason given beyond a vague reference to deficiencies.  The company tried to get answers from the USAF and GAO, both refused to specify the reasons.  As a result the company filed suit which forced the USAF to issue a stop work order to Sierra Nevada Corporation, Embraer Brazil's US front company, that had been awarded the contract.

To buttress its arguments, Hawker Beechcraft has a fact-page up comparing its AT-6B against the A-29B Tucano.  Oddly the AT-6B is far more inter-operable than the A-29B when it comes to USAF/NATO weapons and electronics.  It's a smaller lighter airframe which means it should have greater flexibility to operate from smaller and more austere airfields.  And in the payload department the AT-6B can carry 1100lbs more than the A-29B, approximately 4200lbs to 3000lbs.

To counteract all this, SNC has issued a press release that is interesting to say the least.

"It's unfortunate that the truth is being sacrificed for the self interests of Hawker Beechcraft and its owners, a Canadian company, Onex, and an investment bank, Goldman Sachs."

Embraer is a company owned wholly by the Brazilian government so they try to deflect and attack the partial private foreign ownership of Hawker Beechcraft while invoking the very tired straw-man of Goldman Sachs. Who rights this stuff?  Van Jones?

What is also odd in that Feb 3 press release is the quotes attributed to Taco Gilbert who is listed as a retired USAF Brigadier General that are well nigh scandalous in their attacks on Hawker Beechcraft.  What is even more strange is Taco Gilbert III is still listed as being on active duty and assigned as Director of Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs, Headquarters Air Mobility Command, Scott Air Force Base, Ill.  Are they one and the same?  This could be messy.

SNC argues only the A-29B meets the original request since it already exists as a COIN aircraft.  That ignores the fact the PC-9 has been used as a COIN aircraft already by Ireland.  Over 250 PC-9s are in service around the world.  The T-6A Texan II, which the T-6B is based on, was developed from the PC-9 and there are 446 T-6As being used by the US military.  I guess its a bit muddled and SNC is hoping no one takes a close look.

Of course the $355 million question that has to be asked is - is this aircraft needed now?  Afghanistan is getting more unstable and lethal.  The original contracts have already been severely cut-back.  And the mission of the United States military is winding down quickly there.  I vote to cancel and keep the A-10C Thunderbolt IIs flying while letting Karzai's government buy their own planes.

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