Gen. Schwartz: Handling of Aircraft Contract for Afghan Military an 'Embarrassment' for U.S. Air Force

By Eric Beidel

Air Force leaders once again are having to apologize for errors in awarding weapon contracts. This time the controversy is over a procurement program to provide the Afghan military with light-attack aircraft.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz told reporters in Washington, D.C., Feb. 29 that the service plans to investigate the circumstances that led to the December award of a $355 million contract to produce 20 light attack aircraft to Sparks, Nev.-based Sierra Nevada and Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer. The losing bidder Hawker Beechcraft successfully protested the decision. The Air Force subsequently terminated the program.
Schwartz said the Air Force expects to start a new competition before the funding authorization expires at the end of fiscal year 2013.
Schwartz said that that source selection documentation “didn’t meet standards.” He wouldn’t go into detail, though he expressed regret for the incident.
The controversy comes on the heels of other high-profile Air Force acquisition flubs, including a decade-long effort to replace the service’s tanker fleet that was marred by scandal and saw two contract awards overturned.
If the light-attack aircraft investigation shows that the problems with source selection weren’t the result of an innocent mistake, “there will be hell to pay,” Schwartz said.
The A-29 Super Tucano turboprop aircraft that had been selected for the Afghan military was intended to help train forces to take over the country's security and allow the United States and NATO allies to downsize their presence, the general said. The planes are necessary for Afghan forces to provide close-air support for their army, he said.
“It is important to giving the Afghan military, the air force in particular, the capability that’s needed, and that is one of the things I’m truly sad about,” Schwartz said. “Notwithstanding the embarrassment of this to us as an Air Force, it’s the fact that we’re letting our teammates down.”
The Air Force will do everything it can to get to the bottom of the matter and go through the process again “if time permits,” he said.

Topics: Defense Contracting, Defense Department, Procurement, Acquisition Reform

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