Congressional legislation prompts air force to abandon plans to replace ailing service deal with Lockheed

The US Air Force has cancelled a competition to provide Lockheed Martin F-16 distributed mission training after Congress enacted legislation banning "fee-for-service" contracts for simulator training. The setback comes as more international armed forces, led by Singapore and the UK, have confirmed long-term deals with industry for training services.

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The USAF had intended to place a 15-year fee-for-service contract to renew F-16 simulation

Lockheed owns and operates the current F-16 mission trainers under a seven-year contract that ends next June. The USAF had launched a competition for a new 15-year contract, but Congress banned fee-for-service deals after criticism of existing programmes - particularly the F-16 - by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The move has sent shockwaves through industry, which was expecting the USA to follow the UK and other countries in buying training services because of a lack of funds to procure simulators. The USAF has other distributed mission training service contracts with Boeing for the F-15C and F-15E and Plexsys for the Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and CSC is providing rotary-wing training for the US Army under the Flight School XXI programme. However, these are "grandfathered" until the existing contracts come to an end.

The USAF and Lockheed say the F-16 training programme, after early difficulties, is now meeting requirements. But the mission training centre programme has not unfolded as expected when the $178 million contract was awarded in 2000. Only 14 of a planned 61 networked simulators have been fielded, and training is provided only for Block 50 F-16s, the USAF never having exercised its option for Block 40 training.

The contract was to run for up to 15 years, but will end after seven, the Department of Defense told the GAO, as Lockheed has not earned enough award points to extend it. "Air force F-16 training requirements have changed and the F-16 mission training centre contract awarded to Lockheed was not structured in a way to accommodate modifications that would meet both parties' satisfaction," the company says. Cancellation details were revealed at last week's Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) in Orlando, Florida.

Boeing, with Lockheed as subcontractor, and L-3 Link Simulation & Training had submitted bids for the new F-16 programme. When the legislation banning simulation service contracts took effect last month, the USAF cancelled the competition and asked the DoD to seek a waiver from Congress to award a five-year interim deal to continue the training service while it assesses its future options, including finding funds to buy the simulators. But industry sources believe the answer could be new contracts that can accommodate changes.

Source: Flight International