NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Army is taking a second stab at buying a new fixed-wing utility aircraft after it decided not to choose an aircraft during a previous competition, according to the service’s program executive officer for aviation.
“We haven’t given up on it,” Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, told a group of reporters at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual summit April 26.
The service has been trying to replace its aging fixed-wing utility aircraft fleet for years and seemed close to making a decision on the way forward last year.
But when it came time to choose an aircraft during last year’s competition, the service opted to choose nothing. The Army canceled its solicitation.
Part of the problem might have been that there was only one offering — a Sierra Nevada and Textron team submission.
Sierra Nevada protested the Army’s decision, but the Government Accountability Office denied the protest in December 2017.
The Army has been trying to replace its fleet of C-12 and C-26 transport aircraft for many years. Even three years ago, about 77 percent of the fleet was considered beyond useful life, which would require either replacement or recapitalization through a service life extension.
The basic requirement is to procure a non-developmental fixed-wing aircraft that is capable of performing operational-support airlift missions, moving personnel and equipment flexibly around the battlefield. The Army has been looking for improved passenger and payload capability along with greater refueling range.
The service first released a request for information in 2012 looking for potential commercial off-the-shelf replacements with the plan to procure and field the aircraft from fiscal 2014 and 2018.
The Army has been talking to industry and consortiums to configure a new approach to defining its requirements and procuring a new aircraft using other transactional authorities (OTA), which alters the acquisition rules to more quickly move through the process, according to Todd.
The service put out a draft request for project proposals — which is similar to a request for proposals – just prior to AAAA that gives industry a chance to respond to the problem set the Army has outlined.
The Army is now allowing companies to submit solutions and will follow up with an industry day at the end of May. The plan is to ultimately release an RFP and open up a competition.
“Ultimately, we talked with industry following that last competition and what can we do better to work with [them] to make our requirements,” Todd said. “So we’ve addressed that, we feel confident they are certainly more interested now.”
The results from the draft RPP will tell the Army if it’s defined its requirements properly.
“We do believe there is additional competition out there this time,” Todd said.
The Army is “agnostic” when it comes to whether the aircraft is jet-powered or a turbo-prop, Todd said, but noted, “we certainly desire certain range and payloads and affordability and if it fits inside that parameter we are certainly happy to entertain it.”
Sierra Nevada and Textron announced at AAAA that the team will again enter the new fixed-wing utility aircraft competition.
The Beechcraft King Air 350 “is still the basis for an offering,” Jack Bailey, Sierra Nevada’s senior director for proposal development, told Defense News in a statement.
“Capitalizing on three years of collaboration and investment between Sierra Nevada Corporation and Textron Aviation, the team will provide a solution that exceeds whatever requirements are established by the government with release of the final solicitation, which we expect in May,” Bailey said. “The final requirements document will drive change to the previous submission.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.