Retired US Air Force General Chuck Wald recently (relatively speaking) flew Sierra Nevada Corps/Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
The Brazilian-designed counterinsurgency aircraft is a contender for the service’s Light Air Support (LAS) tender to supply the Afghan Air Force with some sort of fixed-wing light attack capability. The Tucano had been selected last December for the 20 aircraft contract, but that award was immediately challenged by rival Hawker Beechcraft, which had pitched an AT-6 derivative of its Texan II turboprop trainer.
The USAF eventually scrapped the original program when it discovered that its internal documentation for the contract were not in order. The error was only uncovered during the initial phases of a lawsuit Beechcraft had filed to overturn the award. Earlier this year, before he retired, former USAF chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz mentioned that people had been fired for the screw up. He also mentioned that the LAS was an “urgent requirement” for the Afghan Air Force, and that the relaunched program would proceed quickly… And yet, here we sit a year later–so apparently not.
Wald, who was responsible for air operations during the initial stages of the Afghan war, made some interesting comments about the A-29 and its capabilities. “I think if we’d had this in the inventory at the beginning of Afghanistan, it would have led the way for all the things we are doing there,” he says. “It’s not for a high-threat environment, but Afghanistan isn’t. It’s for close air support and staying close to the target. It has a lot of endurance.”
While the LAS program was intended to supply Afghanistan with a fixed-wing light attack capability, the USAF never intended to buy the aircraft for itself. The Air Force had a separate program called Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) to buy 15 similar light attack turboprops (initially, it started off as 100 aircraft which the service might have used during actual combat operations) to help instruct/build up less developed foreign partners, but that program appears to have died a slow death.
For what it’s worth, it should be noted that Wald works as a consultant at Deloitte and is the company’s director for its defense practice. Here is another marketing video.
Here is a rough timeline of the whole LAS debacle:
On 23 September 2011, the USAF decided in a closed-door meeting that Hawker Beechcraft’s bid was not compliant, and therefore they would be eliminated from the competition.
On 1 November 2011, the USAF mailed by certified letter the rejection to the address listed as the receiving point for correspondence in the Hawker Beechcraft bid.
On 4 November, a mail room employee at Hawker Beechcraft signed for it.
On 7 November, the contractual time period for requesting a debriefing lapsed.
On 14 November, the contractual time period for filing a protest to the GAO expired.
On 15 November, Hawker Beechcraft rediscovered the rejection letter in their office mail, and called the SPO requesting a debriefing, but were rejected.
In late November, Hawker Beechcraft filed a protest with GAO anyway.
In mid-December, the GAO threw out Hawker Beechcraft’s protest, and the company appealed to the Court of Federal Claims.
On 31 December, the USAF announced the contract award to Sierra Nevada/Embraer for the Super Tucano, which was mysteriously back-dated to 24 December. The USAF also never explained the reasons why they judged Hawker Beechcraft non-compliant in the first place.
In mid-February 2012, the USAF set aside the contract award to Sierra Nevada/Embraer, acknowledging finding irregularities in the documentation during the evaluation process.
Contract re-award is scheduled in January 2013.