The US Air Force will probably have to restart its Light Air Support (LAS) programme, the service's top civilian official told Congress on 6 March.

"This is an urgent need from our Afghan partners," air force secretary Michael Donley told the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. "It is very likely we will need to go back and start from scratch on this source selection."

The USAF is working out how best to restart the programme, but there will be a delay of several months at the minimum, he said. There will also be a new competition, but the requirements will likely remain unchanged, Donley added.

Super Tucano 

© Embraer

The USAF was hoping to acquire 20 LAS aircraft worth $355 million for the Afghan air force. It had selected the Brazilian-built Sierra Nevada/Embraer EMB-314/A-29 Super Tucano (above), after the service rejected Hawker Beechcraft's AT-6 (below). The USAF was forced to suspend the contract after Hawker filed a lawsuit, but then subsequently had to cancel the tender altogether.

 AT-6 - Hawker Beechcraft

© Hawker Beechcraft

Donley said the USAF made the decision to cancel the nascent contract because its internal documentation was "not what it needed to be".

The service has started an internal investigation, led by Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen Donald Hoffmann, to determine if there was any wrongdoing. USAF chief Gen Norton Schwartz said last week that there would be "hell to pay" if any misconduct was discovered.

The Brazilian government, which the USA has been trying to court as an ally, has reacted angrily. However, after the US said it was still interested in the Super Tucano, the two sides have reopened negotiations.

The USAF has struggled with its procurement process for more than a decade after a top air force official was jailed for misconduct, along with a Boeing executive, during a contest to replace the KC-135 tanker.

In recent years the air force had hoped to put the scandal behind it, but as Donley put it, this latest episode has proven to be an "embarrassment" - echoing Schwartz's comment a week before.

Source: Flight International