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Super Tucano Wins Afghanistan Light Air Support Bid

Feb. 27, 2013 - 06:03PM   |  
By AARON MEHTA   |   Comments
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WASHINGTON — The Afghan military will receive 20 of the A-29 Super Tucano as their new light air support vehicle, the U.S. Defense Department announced.

The Super Tucano, a joint program from U.S. firm Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) and Brazil’s Embraer, has been awarded the contract, beating out competitor Beechcraft and its ATS.

The firm-fixed-price contract is worth $427,459,708, and has a maximum amount $950 million that can be ordered under the contract. Work will be completed by Feb. 26, 2019, and the first delivery order is expected to be complete by April 2015.

In addition to the 20 planes, SNC and Embraer will provide “one computer based trainer, one basic aviation training device, one flight training device, six mission planning stations, six mission debrief systems, long lead spares for interim contractor support, outside the continental United States base activation, site surveys, flight certification to U.S. Air Force military type certification standards, and data.”

“I am confident that the source selection process was disciplined and meticulous, and we are excited to provide a much-needed capability to our Afghan partners,” U.S. Lt. Gen. CR Davis, military deputy with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, wrote in a statement.

The award marks the second time in a year that the A-29 has won this contract. The Air Force picked the plane early last year as its choice for the contract, but were forced to recompete the program after Hawker Beechcraft lodged a formal complaint with the Government Accountability Office and filed a lawsuit in federal court.

The Air Force relaunched the competition last April, although the Super Tucano and the AT-6 were the only competitors. (The relaunching of the contract nullified the lawsuit from Hawker.)

“The Light Air Support program is essential to the United States’ objectives in Afghanistan and to our national security. It is a great honor to serve our country by providing the aircraft, training and support for this program,” Taco Gilbert, vice president of Integrated Tactical Solutions for SNC’s Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance business area, wrote in a statement sent out minutes after the contract was announced.

“The A-29 Super Tucano, with its proven track record, is exactly what’s needed for the LAS program where the mission is critical and time is short. We will deliver a superior product, on-time and on-budget.

“We are glad to provide the U.S. government with the best aircraft for the LAS program and to aid American warfighters and partners in successfully concluding their mission in Afghanistan,” Luiz Carlos Aguiar, president and CEO of Embraer Defense and Security, wrote in the same statement.

“Through this contract with SNC, we will increase our investment in the United States by creating new jobs and supporting American businesses.”

“Although the U.S. Air Force did not select the AT-6 Light Attack Aircraft for the Light Air Support program, Beechcraft is committed to advancing the aircraft’s capabilities and continues to pursue additional close air support opportunities,” Nicole Alexander, Beechcraft spokeswoman, wrote in a statement.

“We are disappointed that our proposal was not chosen. We will meet with the USAF for a full debrief of the award and determine our next steps forward at that time.”

‘A Proven System’

During a recent interview, Gilbert expressed confidence that the Super Tucano would once again win the contract.

“It is a proven system” Gilbert said, citing over 28,000 hours of combat flying time logged across nine countries. “What you see if what you get, and we’re confident we get that low-risk capability. It certainly meets all the requirements that are out there for the LAS program.”

Previous models of the A-29 were built in Brazil, but the planes for the LAS contract will be created at a facility located near Jacksonville International Airport in Jacksonville, Fla. Embraer estimates the new facility will support 100 suppliers across 20 states and result in roughly 1,400 American jobs.

The facility is not designed for this contract alone.

“We see a huge market” for expansion, Gilbert said. “We see great growth potential. As the war on terror continues to spread across the globe, one of the lessons learned is that these 4th and 5th generation fighters are very capable but this isn’t necessarily a great mission for them.”

Gilbert said the companies are prepared to hit the ground running “day one” after winning the contract. “We’re ready right now to start ordering long-lead items and start working the hiring down in Jacksonville,” he said.

A former USAF general, Gilbert stressed that his company was aware of the condensed timetable facing the program, a result of the extra year required to bid the program and by the Obama administration’s decision to remove troops from Afghanistan at an acerbated pace.

“This is just too important, both from the mission they have and for the need to bring Americans home,” Gilbert said. “This program has to be successful.”

Disappointment for Beechcraft

While the Super Tucano team is celebrating, the contract loss hit hard for the competition.

During the period the contract was recompeted, Hawker Beechcraft went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company, now rebranded with just the Beechcraft name, announced its restructuring last week.

Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture said in a recent interview that his company is positioned strongly in the market, even if the LAS deal went to the Embraer/SNC duo.

“We have the financial strength and stability as a result of this restructuring to compete vigorously on competitions like this and we’ll go in search of a launch customer if this [LAS] contract is not the vehicle we can use for that,” Boisture said. “We have an expectation that the future growth and profitability of the company will definitely involve the AT-6.”

He also said the second competition “proceeded with a great deal of urgency, and yet care. Our interactions with the Air Force on this round of competition have been very professional.”

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