The Government Accountability Office has rejected Beechraft Corp.’s protest on a high-stakes Air Force contract for light support airplanes that the Air Force awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp. and its partner, Embraer.
The two companies issued statements announcing the decision by the GAO.
The contract is for 20 planes for use in Afghanistan by Afghan military personnel. It’s worth more than $427 million, and could be worth as much as $1 billion with future orders.
The planes will be used under the U.S. government’s Building Partnership Capacity efforts.
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Beechcraft and Sierra Nevada have been battling for the contract for nearly three years, including legal challenges.
Beechcraft is calling on Congress to limit the purchase of the aircraft to only the Afghanistan requirement of the first delivery order.
“It is deeply distressing that the Air Force selected a more expensive, less capable, foreign-manufactured airplane with weapons and systems unfamiliar to, and outside the control of, the United States military,” Beechcraft said in a statement. “We have known that the requirements for this procurement were written to favor the competition’s aircraft.”
During the protest, Beechcraft learned that the GAO review looks at only whether the Air Force followed its process – and not whether the process was correct or appropriate, the company said.
“We question whether the Embraer aircraft with its foreign-made weapons can be certified to U.S. military standards in time to provide the mission-capable aircraft per the contract,” it said.
Beechcraft remains confident that its AT-6, rated “exceptional” by the Air Force, was the better choice and the best plane for U.S. partner nations in need of light attack aircraft, the company said.
The contract was awarded to Sierra Nevada and Embraer on Feb. 27. Sierra Nevada offered the Air Force Embraer’s Super Tucano while Beechcraft offered its AT-6, a derivative of its T-6 turboprop trainer.
“Today’s decision is a win for the American warfighter and our allies in Afghanistan who urgently need this light air support capacity to fulfill our mission there,” Taco Gilbert, Sierra Nevada’s vice president of Integrated Tactical Solutions in its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance business area, said in a statement. “It is also a victory for the American workers who are producing this aircraft.”
Since February, Embraer has started work on a manufacturing facility in Jacksonville, Fla., where it plans to assemble the Super Tucanos to go to the Air Force.
Embraer had previously won the contract, but the Air Force canceled the deal in March 2012 after Beechcraft said it had wrongly been excluded from the bidding process. An Air Force investigation found that the bidding process had been flawed and that bias existed toward Embraer and Sierra Nevada.
The Pentagon then restarted the competition.
Sierra Nevada then contended that the revised bid proposal was tilted in favor of then-Hawker Beechcraft.
The new bidding process proceeded despite Sierra Nevada’s claim in court, and the company was selected for the project.