Hawker Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture and U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo delivered a unified message Friday at a news conference inside a company hangar in east Wichita:
They want the Air Force to explain why it excluded Hawker Beechcraft’s bid for a light air support contract worth up to nearly $1 billion.
“We want to know," Boisture said.
In November, the company was informed its bid had been excluded from the competition. The Government Accountability Office rejected Hawker Beechcraft’s request for a briefing along with its protest, saying both were filed after the deadline.
The GAO also said in its report that the Air Force could debrief the company if it chose to do so. So far, the Air Force has not responded to requests from Pompeo, members of the Kansas delegation or Hawker Beechcraft.
The Air Force also awarded an initial $355 million contract on Dec. 22 to Sierra Nevada Corp., which partnered with Brazil-based Embraer to supply Super Tucano turboprops. But it didn’t announce the award until Dec. 30, Pompeo said.
Normally defense contracts are posted the day after they’re awarded, he said.
"That is highly unusual," Pompeo said.
"We believe there’s been a flaw in the acquisition process," Boisture said.
Hawker Beechcraft filed suit last week with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims asking it to determine whether the process was conducted lawfully, Boisture said.
Because of the pending litigation, the Air Force issued a stop work order to Sierra Nevada until the case can be resolved. Boisture expects a decision by the end of March.
Hawker Beechcraft offered the Air Force its AT-6 turboprop, based on its T-6 trainer. The contract’s loss puts at risk a four-year, $100 million investment by Hawker Beechcraft and its partners in preparing for the contract, Boisture said.
The program also represents 1,400 U.S. jobs, including 800 at Hawker Beechcraft. That includes 500 jobs in engineering and program management, and 300 Machinists-represented jobs at the facility. Eighty-two companies in 39 states provide parts for the T-6.
“This is about these jobs, folks,” Boisture said
Boisture called the AT-6 a superior airplane over the Super Tucano.
It’s faster, has a longer range and can carry more, he said. It’s capable of dropping every NATO certified weapon and its communications systems and other systems are proven.
The company has delivered 725 T-6 trainers, including about 500 to the U.S. Air Force and Navy.
Machinists union leader Steve Rooney, who attended the news conference, said he and other union leaders are there to fight for jobs. Rooney said he doesn’t understand how the government can award a billion dollar contract funded by U.S. tax dollars to a foreign competitor.
“Something has gone awry here,” he said.
The Air Force will use light air support aircraft in a program called Building Partner Capacity. The planes will be used to give Afghanistan close air support beginning in 2013.
The Air Force competition has some striking similarities to the U.S. tanker contract contest, which Boeing won in a third round of competition, Pompeo and Boisture said.
In the second round of three tries at awarding the contract, the Air Force gave the Northrop Grumman and Airbus team the award. It was overturned after a Boeing protest saying the rules had been changed in the middle of the contest to accommodate the Airbus tanker.
With Hawker Beechcraft’s exclusion, the Air Force held a sole source selection process in the light air support contract, they said.
“This is an easier case,” Pompeo said. “We are simply asking for an explanation.”