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Sierra Nevada Corp. awarded Air Force contract over Beechcraft Corp.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at 4:20 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, at 11:12 p.m.

A much-disputed, high-stakes Air Force light air support contract has been awarded to the Sierra Nevada Corp., which beat out Wichita’s Beechcraft for the work, the Defense Department said Wednesday.

The $427.5 million contract delivers 20 planes for use in Afghanistan.

The contract also includes training devices, mission planning stations, mission debrief systems, spares for interim contractor support, activation at bases outside the U.S., site surveys, aircraft certification to military standards and data, according to the Pentagon.

The award could be worth up to $950 million, depending on future orders.

Beechcraft, formerly Hawker Beechcraft, offered the Air Force its AT-6 attack aircraft, a version of its T-6 trainer.

Sierra Nevada, based in Sparks, Nev., partnered with Brazil-based Embraer to offer its Super Tucano.

The loss is a blow to Beechcraft, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week.

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

Beechcraft will continue to pursue other contracts.

“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,” the statement said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, said he was disappointed to learn that Beechcraft did not receive the award.

“I look forward to learning more details about the selection process in the days ahead,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The workers at the new Beechcraft would have made a great airplane here in the United States. I regret the Air Force did not award them the chance to build this plane.”

The planes will give the Afghan National Army Air Corps a fixed-wing strike capability.

The light air support program is essential to U.S. objectives in Afghanistan and to national security, Taco Gilbert, a Sierra Nevada vice president and head of the company’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business, said in a statement. “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.”

The contract’s Super Tucanos will be built at Embraer’s site in Jacksonville, Fla.

The facility at Jacksonville International Airport is undergoing modifications for an aircraft assembly line, the company said.

Sierra Nevada said the contract will support 1,400 U.S. jobs, including positions at various suppliers across the country.

The planes comply with the Buy American Act, Sierra Nevada said.

Eighty-six percent of the dollar value of the plane comes from components supplied by U.S. companies or countries that qualify under the act, it said.

The A-29 Super Tucano is used by militaries in nine nations and has logged more than 180,000 flight hours, including 28,000 combat hours.

The firm-fixed price contract is to provide an advanced air crew trainer and a light air support aircraft to establish air combat capability for allied countries under the Building Partnership Capacity program.

The planes also will be used for reconnaissance and training for the Afghanistan military.

They are a “vital element of the United States’ Afghan withdrawal strategy and central to maintaining security in that region going forward,” Sierra Nevada said in a statement.

The 20 planes are to be delivered by April 2015, although the contract extends through February 2019.

The competition has taken nearly three years and has been plagued by delays and legal challenges.

The Air Force first awarded the contract to Sierra Nevada after it eliminated Hawker Beechcraft from the competition.

The Air Force then canceled the deal in March 2012 following objections by Hawker Beechcraft and after an investigation found that the bidding process had been flawed.

Sierra Nevada sued in June 2012 after it alleged that the Air Force’s revised bidding process favored Hawker Beechcraft.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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