WASHINGTON: Wichita Congressman Mike Pompeo and Kansas senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran have written the Pentagon to protest Wichita-based Beechcraft’s loss of the bitterly contested Light Air Support contract, Rep. Pompeo told Breaking Defense this afternoon. Beechcraft, which had offered its AT-6 Texan II aircraft, announced plans earlier today to file a formal protest against the award to Sierra Nevada Corp., which offered the Brazilian-designed Embraer Super Tucano. Depending on how you count, this marks the second or third time the military has tried to buy Super Tucanos only to run afoul of Beechcraft and its backers.

“Had Beechcraft not been best value, I don’t think you would hear a peep from anyone in the Kansas delegation,” Pompeo said, minutes before the letter went out to newly-installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “[But] they chose the less qualified, more expensive aircraft,” he said — and, the Kansan claimed, the Air Force’s own assessment backs him up. Keep reading →

[Updated 1:15 pm, Feb. 20] Wichita-based Beechcraft — formerly Hawker Beechcraft — has officially emerged from bankruptcy with a new name, 2,000 fewer employees, $2 billion less debt, and one last shot at a bitterly contested Air Force contract to provide ground attack planes to Afghanistan. The Air Force’s decision on the Light Air Support program may come as early as this week.

Today’s announcement puts a nail in the coffin of Sinophobic speculation that Beechcraft would sell out to Beijing. The Kansas-based aircraft manufacturer did accept a $50 million “non-refundable deposit” from a Chinese firm, Superior Aviation Beijing, that was interested in acquiring it. But concerns overSuperior’s business bona fides and the security of Beechcraft’s defense programsultimately scotched the deal. Keep reading →

The proposed sale of bankrupt Hawker Beechcraft to a Chinese company will create no security problems for the US military, pledged Hawker chairman Bill Boisture in an exclusive interview with Breaking Defense. Keep reading →

[UPDATED with comment from outgoing Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz] Sierra Nevada Corp. unveiled its Super Tucano to the American public even as its lawsuit proceeds against the American government.

The Air Force initially decided to buy 20 of the light attack planes for Afghanistan, then unexpectedly cancelled the Light Air Support contract two months later in February — a decision Sierra Nevada is suing to reverse. Meanwhile, competitor Hawker Beechcraft, which had been pushing its AT-6 Texan II as the all-American alternative to the Brazilian-designed Super Tucano, is in the somewhat awkward position of potentially being bought by the Chinese. Keep reading →

“The acquisitions system is so fundamentally broken,” Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) executive Taco Gibert told Breaking Defense this morning. “Everybody loses.” Keep reading →

The Air Force will choose a winner in its troubled Light Air Support competition without actually flying the two contending planes, the Embraer Super Tucano and the Hawker-Beechcraft AT-6, and it will even disregard what it has data from the limited “flight demonstration” it conducted last year.

That’s a disturbing departure from best practice in a program that has already been an agony for the Air Force, with the delivery of ground-attack planes to the fledgling Afghan air force now delayed by 15 months, enough to miss not one but two “fighting seasons” in Afghanistan. A chagrined Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has publicly pledged “we’ll work our asses off” to get it right. But according to Breaking Defense interviews with both corporate camps, the revised Request For Proposal released at 5:16 on Friday — the traditional time to bury awkward news — skips the important step of having the Air Force actually see how both planes fly before it makes its decision, tentatively due in January. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON [updated Friday 3:30 pm to add details from the Air Force statement and comment from Hawker Beechcraft CEO]: The Texan II is back in the saddle again. Next week, on Tuesday the 17th, the US Air Force will meet with both Hawker Beechcraft, which makes the AT-6 Texan II attack plane, and rival Sierra Nevada Corporation, which is offering the Embraer Super Tucano, to review a draft of a new Request For Proposal on the troubled Light Air Support program. If all goes well — which it certainly hasn’t so far — the Air Force expects to make its decision in early 2013 and deliver the first aircraft to Afghanistan in the third quarter of 2014, what its official statement released Friday afternoon admits is “a delay of about 15 months.” Keep reading →

It’s Texan versus Tucano, take two, and the embarrassed Air Force has got to get it right this time.

With all the claims, counter-claims, and rumors swirling about the controversial contract to buy the Embraer Super Tucano, which the Air Force cancelled unexpectedly on Tuesday and will likely re-compete, Breaking Defense went both to the rival companies and independent sources to distill this definitive guide to the competition, from the two planes’ performance to the manufacturers’ twenty-year history of feuding. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: The Air Force leadership is hurting in the wake of another botched acquisition and the continuing Dover Air Force Base burial scandal, and you could see it in the face of Gen. Norton Schwartz this morning.

The latest cock-up forced the Air Force to set aside, effective March 2, the $355 million contract for 20 Super Tucano small planes, with options for 15 more. The contract was awarded to privately held Sierra Nevada Corp, the prime contractor for the Embraer plane. This leaves the Afghan Air Force without an aircraft considered important to their ability to contain the Taliban and other assorted nasties. It also means that the Air Force will lose that money unless it moves quickly to hold a new competition that is not challenged by the loser. Keep reading →

If you thought the Republican primaries had turned ugly, wait till you see what it takes to win an Air Force contract nowadays. The feud between Hawker Beechcraft and Sierra Nevada Corporation over the Light Air Support contract has escalated from the usual appeals to the GAO up to a lawsuit, a freeze on the program, an online battle between the competitors websites, a write-your-Congressman campaign, all of it leavened lately by online conspiracy theories involving international financier George Soros.

At stake? A $355 million contract for 20 small planes, with options for 15 more. The U.S. is buying the planes to train and equip the infant Afghan Air Force with a rugged, easy-to-operate ground attack plane to use against the Taliban, Haqqani Network and any other insurgents they might encounter. While puny by Pentagon standards, the Light Air Support program has always attracted outsize attention as a litmus test for the Air Force’s willingness to invest in counterinsurgency. Now it’s rapidly becoming a case study in the larger dysfunctions of defense procurement. Keep reading →

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