Air Force Reopens Light Air Support Contract

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The Air Force will formally reopen the bidding process for a light air support aircraft contract on Tuesday with the release of a draft request for proposals. The decision will presumably allow Hawker Beechcraft to re-enter its AT-6B in the competition for the $1 billion deal, which was briefly awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp and its version of the Embraer Super Tucano. The Air Force cancelled the deal with Sierra Nevada earlier this year after it said it discovered unspecified irregularities in the contract process while preparing a defense for a lawsuit launched by Hawker Beech. The final draft of the RFP will be issued on Apr. 30 and the contract will be awarded sometime in 2013.

The contract issue has become politically significant at several levels. Hawker Beechcraft launched a public appeal for support to get back in the bidding and that, in turn, drew support from local politicians and became a talking point in the Republican nomination race. Meanwhile Florida politicians started a bandwagon of their own for the Sierra Nevada/Embraer bid since the aircraft would be assembled in Jacksonville. It took an international turn when Brazil, Embraer's home country, suggested the abrupt cancellation of contract might color its assessment of potential fighter aircraft for its military. Boeing's F/A-18 is up against several European aircraft in that competition, which is worth about $36 billion.