Air Force looking to rebid light-attack aircraft contract

WASHINGTON — The Air Force is preparing to rebid a $355 million contract for a light-attack aircraft for the Afghan military that it canceled just a week ago, Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley indicated Tuesday.

In an appearance before a House Appropriations panel, Donley said there is still an urgent need to provide the Afghan military with the aircraft and the Air Force is trying to determine how quickly they can restart the contract process.

“We want to get this back on track,” Donley said.

The Air Force in December awarded the contract to Sierra Nevada Corp., of Sparks, Nev., to supply the light-attack aircraft, but last week rescinded the contract after determining that the Air Force paperwork behind its decision was insufficient.

The Air Force took a look at the documentation after Hawker Beechcraft Corp., which has an aircraft completion plant at the Little Rock airport, filed a legal challenge against its exclusion from the competition.

Donley said that it would likely be a few weeks before Gen. Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, has completed a Commander Directed Investigation into the awarding of the contract.

Once completed, Donley suggested that the Air Force would rebid the contract.

“We’ll probably need to go back and start from scratch,” he said. “We are determining now how quickly we can get restarted.”

Donley said that delivery of any aircraft to the Afghan military would likely be delayed by at least a few months as a result of the contract problems.

The contract with Sierra Nevada was to provide 20 Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucanos. Embraer, a Brazilian company, intends to manufacture the aircraft at a facility in Florida.

Hawker Beechcraft, based in Wichita, Kan., had offered its AT-6 aircraft.

Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said Tuesday that he plans to continue following the issue closely.

“I’m not sure that in the middle of an investigation we should be prejudging this,” he said. “Bottom line for me is to make sure there is a fair process in place and the rules are followed so that the companies bidding can compete on a level playing field.”