SuperTucano Vs AT-6: The “Smoking Hole”

by Ed Timperlake

“While we pursue perfection, we sometimes fall short, and when we do we will take corrective action,” said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, in a statement Tuesday (Feb 28, 2012).

The USAF just withdrew their selection of the SuperTucano for the Afghan Army Air Force LAS. Numerous worldwide news stories are reporting this action.

The Air Force plans to set aside a disputed $354 million contract for a light air support plane and initiate an investigation into the award. A senior USAF acquisition official, who is reportedly leaving soon in any case, did not like the documentation for the award.  We also have learned from news stories that he commander of the Air Force Material Command has initiated an investigation into the matter.

The USAF creates a smoking hole at a crucial moment in transition in Afghanistan. Credit Photo: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/9363124

However, there is a lot more to this story starting with the announcement process. It was not in prepared testimony by Secretary Donley but rather stated by him in introductory remarks at a Capital Hill Hearing. Within minutes a blast e-mail went out to Congress announcing the AF re-do decision.

Compounding the AF actions is the brutal fact that at the height of American troops being savagely murdered in Afghanistan it appears there was no coordination with the client, the Afghan President and his Minister of Defense.

Did our Ambassador, or for that matter anyone at State know beforehand? Heck of a way to fight and win a war.

All those pleased with the decision are announcing their support because it means jobs for Kansas. But wait one minute—what about troops in combat and the fact the SuperTucano, is a far superior combat proven LAS aircraft could have already been flying combat missions years ago, I guess the Marine saying still applies: “The Marines are at war America is at the Mall.”

How about the foreign policy implications the U.S. Sierra Nevada Corporation and Brazil –I guess an honorable team just fell for the great line from Animal House —“You F*** Up-you trusted us.”

With an $ 8-9 Billion Brazil possible downselect of the F/A-18 in play I can not think of a bigger insult to a company Enbraer that builds a great product.  The USAF just a few weeks ago stood tall in protecting their honor and integrity-and their judgement was confirmed by GAO. A few weeks ago the USAF issued a then definitive white paper on the LAS competition:

LAS procurement conducted in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations

  • The USAF engaged in discussions with all offerors from 8 Apr 11 until 23 Sep 11 to ensure we had a clear understanding of their proposals, and all offerors had a clear understanding of the USAF’s requirements
  • Offerors whose proposals did not meet the LAS requirements were provided ENs outlining proposal deficiencies and weaknesses
  • The ENs contain proprietary information and can only be released by the offeror
  • HBDC was removed from the competitive range on 1 Nov 2011
  • HBDC protested its exclusion from the competitive range with the Government Accountability Office (GAO case number B-406170) on 21 Nov 11

Perhaps Mr. Van Buren, the Senior USAF Acquisition official, concerned with improved documentation didn’t have a chance to read the USAF paper sent to Congress.  And perhaps he missed the GAO action. GAO dismissed HBDC’s protest on 22 Dec 11.

The real world practical result of this process is more important than deployed capabilities is that the Obama Administration will more than likely accelerate an Afghan exit strategy.

If so, there will sadly be no aircraft for Afghanistan.

The USAF is taking great pains to remind everyone that the case is still in litigation-but now will that case continue is another question-perhaps the discovery process putting reputations at risk?

The USAF said there would be an accelerated investigation and maybe they will get the investigation correct now for some extremely important questions one might pose and which the USAF needs to answer.

Was it management incompetence or something more serious when HBC submitted the AT-6 into a non-developmental, production ready, and no USG funds to be expended LAS source selection?

A fly-off that was not a fly-off. Why was the “fly-off” allowed between a full up combat aircraft and one the AT-6 which STILL is in development and not certified for weapons release?

Were any USG funds for test ranges and pilots to try and certify the AT-6 for weapons release expended during the source selection?

Is it a case of criminal leaks and/or successful corporate  “economic espionage” that allowed Chairman Bill Boisture to speak with authority on knowing the offer price per aircraft of the SuperTucano?

Question number 4 is central. If HBC knows the offered cost per aircraft of the SuperT, not the allocated total dollar amount which covers support etc., then SNC and Embraer do not have a chance of success in a re-compete.

Knowledge of that specific number is worth a potential billion dollars.

Why is there absolutely no sense of urgency on the part of the USAF to get core capabilities for the Afghan military in place as we transition our forces in Afghanistan?

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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