Who should build our next light attack aircraft?

posted at 8:30 am on January 7, 2012 by Jazz Shaw

The United States Air Force is facing questions from Hawker Beechcraft Corp. after a recent GAO decision effectively removed them from the running in a bid to build our next generation of light attack aircraft.

Hawker Beechcraft, which has been excluded by the U.S. Air Force from competing for a contract to supply a new light attack aircraft, is fighting mad and fighting back.

The Wichita-based manufacturer of business jets and turboprops filed suit yesterday with the Court of Federal Claims following notification that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) declined to review its protest of the Air Force decision, which was made public in November.

The company’s AT-6 light attack variant of the T-6 turboprop trainer was previously considered a front-runner in the competition for a contract valued at nearly $1 billion, and Hawker Beechcraft and its partners in the AT-6 say they have invested more than $100 million preparing for the competition.

Having already built T-6 trainers for multiple air forces around the world, Hawker Beechcraft describes the graduation to producing the attack aircraft as a natural progression. At stake are more than 1,400 American jobs, with at least 800 of them going to Wichita, Kansas. If the company is out of the race, the only remaining competitor is listed as being Sierra Nevada Corp.based in Nevada. The problem with that, however, is that critics have noted that Sierra Nevada is more of a front company and the actual manufacturer would be Brazilian-based Embraer, manufacturer of the Super Tucano, which would take the place of the AT-6.

Sierra Nevada disputes this claim.

Taco Gilbert, a vice president of business development at Sierra Nevada, said in an emailed statement that the number of U.S. jobs supported by his company’s win of the contract is more than 1,200. Those include 50 new high-tech and engineering positions in Jacksonville, Fla., and those supported through its network of 70 U.S. suppliers in 21 states. He said 88 percent of its Super Tucano is made from parts supplied by U.S. companies or countries that qualify under the Buy America Act.

“’’It will be a U.S.-built aircraft and it represents a significant boost to the aerospace industry in Florida and Colorado,” Gilbert said.

But it’s not just the question of where the planes will be built and who will benefit from the associated jobs. At PJ Media, Bryan Preston does some digging and discovers that that manufacturer of the Super Tucano has more than a few problems of their own.

That competitor carries significant and possibly disqualifying baggage in the form of connections to the Iranian government, and a new bribery investigation. Embraer is not only controlled by the Brazilian government, it is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That Act prohibits companies from bribing foreign officials or making other illegal payments to gain or retain business.

That investigation began in November 2011, and appears to still be in the early stages. Embraer is accused of engaging in bribery in three countries, none of which have been identified publicly. If found guilty, the company could be banned from doing any business with the US government at all. The SEC’s investigation of Embraer went public about three weeks before the Air Force disqualified Hawker Beechcraft without explanation.

Preston also wonders if there aren’t additional political considerations at play here. Hawker Beechcraft is also a well known manufacturer of those infamous “corporate jets” that the Obama administration loves to go on and on about. Further, Embraer is very vocal in boasting about their policy of environmental sustainability. With an administration so fixated on “going green,” one wonders if that didn’t play into the decision to send the work to Brazil rather than keeping it in Kansas?


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Why are we looking to purchase planes that look like they should be fighting in World War 2 or in a Third World country…. well even in the third world countries if they can afford a plane the at least still have MIG jets..

A TURBRO-PROP!? What kind of application does that have?

All of our ordnance works off of smart technology (smart bombs/missiles) that allow you to fire from miles away. Why have something that flies so slow? I can understand the Army purchasing off-the-shelf helicopters because it meets the mission requirements. But I just don’t get this. Close Air Support??? I mean we have a jet that is about to fall apart that does that; A-10. But still that’s a jet not a Turbo Prop.

LordJack on January 7, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Look up the cost per hour on either a jet or an attack helo. Also factor the ceiling/range of a helo. There’s your answer.

vermin on January 7, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Those look like something right out of WWII.

Just wild! It’s crazy that a single-prop two-seater is still the most efficient means of air-to-ground warfare.

Kakalak Pundit on January 7, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Why are we looking to purchase planes that look like they should be fighting in World War 2 or in a Third World country…. well even in the third world countries if they can afford a plane the at least still have MIG jets..

A TURBRO-PROP!? What kind of application does that have?

All of our ordnance works off of smart technology (smart bombs/missiles) that allow you to fire from miles away. Why have something that flies so slow? I can understand the Army purchasing off-the-shelf helicopters because it meets the mission requirements. But I just don’t get this. Close Air Support??? I mean we have a jet that is about to fall apart that does that; A-10. But still that’s a jet not a Turbo Prop.

LordJack on January 7, 2012 at 3:12 PM

When air superiority has been achieved (as noted by several other commentators here) then jets are overkill and can’t loiter as much as needed for current CAS requirements.

Lower fuel consumption + longer loiter time+ modern weapons systems=BETTER CAS and less dead ground-pounders

SgtSVJones on January 7, 2012 at 3:33 PM

Embraer builds nothing but garbage. Why the hell would the government choose them? Who got the payoff?

Ward Cleaver on January 7, 2012 at 3:54 PM

I’m sure Obama thinks we should outsource the production of all our military hardware to China.

Axion on January 7, 2012 at 4:03 PM

I mean we have a jet that is about to fall apart that does that; A-10. But still that’s a jet not a Turbo Prop.

wow. i dont think you could be more wrong. the A-10 will be flown until at least 2028. they have just upgraded them not too long ago to the a-10c. it is a great plane and is in no danger of “falling apart”. and even if it did, it could still complete its mission and fly home.

long live the A-10!

Lifeisdeath on January 7, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Why are we looking to purchase planes that look like they should be fighting in World War 2 or in a Third World country…. well even in the third world countries if they can afford a plane the at least still have MIG jets..

A TURBRO-PROP!? What kind of application does that have?

All of our ordnance works off of smart technology (smart bombs/missiles) that allow you to fire from miles away. Why have something that flies so slow? I can understand the Army purchasing off-the-shelf helicopters because it meets the mission requirements. But I just don’t get this. Close Air Support??? I mean we have a jet that is about to fall apart that does that; A-10. But still that’s a jet not a Turbo Prop.

LordJack on January 7, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Al Qaeda and most of the other non-state actors don’t have MIG’s, and in any conflict with any country on earth other than Russia or China we would have total air superiority in a matter of days if not hours.

As far as the A-10 goes, it’s much more expensive to operate, and they don’t make them anymore. Even if you make spares for it forever, the airframe is only good for so many hours. If they did decide to build amore jet-powered attack planes I’m sure they would want something capable of operating from a carrier, which the A-10 is not.

Walter Sobchak on January 7, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I wish that we had given a second look to the old A-1 Skyraider with a new powerplant, modern avionics, and carbon-fiber body; It would be the Infantryman’s dream CAS platform.

Dragoonchris on January 7, 2012 at 4:42 PM

Let’s just get the blueprints for the P-40, make them again,and kick ass!

love2rumba on January 7, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Let’s outsource Obama.

China needs a new breed of rickshaw pullers.

It’s a lot like playing golf, aerobically.

profitsbeard on January 7, 2012 at 5:35 PM

The A-10 (Warthog) is an excellent platform for close air support, and is a fantastic radar killer, which makes it an invaluable asset for taking out ground-to-air missile sites.

That said, there is a role for the lighter aircraft; cost of operation is one consideration among many.

The Tucano is a good plane; however there is no reason that we can’t do better. As a matter of fact, it is a testament to our slow slide toward mediocrity if we don’t.

hillbillyjim on January 7, 2012 at 6:06 PM

The quote from an article linked below makes it sound like the US is purchasing the Super Tucano’s for use by the Afghan Air Force which would change the requirements. You would want something cheaper, less high tech and avionics that an Afghan pilot can be trained on quickly. If it takes 2 years of training for a pilot to fly an F-18 how long do you think it would take an Afghan to be competent flying a plane with a similar level of complication?

The U.S. Air Force is buying twenty Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano aircraft for the Afghanistan Air Force… Afghanistan already has hundreds of pilots who would quickly learn how to handle the Super Tucano.

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htairfo/articles/20120106.aspx

Wigglesworth on January 7, 2012 at 6:59 PM

Looking at this I only have two observations:

1) How is this decision going to square with Obama’s latest push to “insource” jobs back into the US from foreign suppliers?

2) Sierra Nevada Corp has a vice-president named “Taco”????

Gearbox on January 7, 2012 at 7:10 PM

They should bring back the A-37 Dragonfly.

RickB on January 7, 2012 at 7:15 PM

This is a joke right?

No way in hell Taco Gilbert gets a f’g contract! Damn right this is racism, just like the decision to block Kansas is racism. When one race is intent on f’g you over it’s only fair to hit them back. Kansas, California, Arizona… Let’s admit the obvious here. Obama’s school of Marxism is run by white oikophobes who loathe their own race.

There’s also Pentagon Payback in here somewhere. Boeing closes their Kansas facility after 80 years over the refueling contract and now Wichita gets f’d again? This isn’t an accident. This is Chicago and the Traitor in Chief at work. More proof that the military brass is now effectively controlled by our enemies.

rcl on January 7, 2012 at 7:45 PM

These planes are used for asymmetric warfare. Their ability to stay in the air for a long time and slower speed make them perfect for Close Air Support and Recon/Surveillance. It is something that the US military is lacking right now.

jdun on January 7, 2012 at 7:48 PM

for the USAF building more A-10s even in the unlikely event that we have to reverse engineer them would be the best option. Light attack aircraft are hors d’oeuvres for MANPADS.

If you are going to use a prop and only 11 hundred horsepower a radial piston engine is superior because of their ability to absorb damage and keep running. modifying them into diesels would be a good idea though.

Slowburn on January 7, 2012 at 7:51 PM

Hawker Beechcraft is a non starter with this administration.
First, they’re in a strong red state.
Second, they’re non-union from what I can find.
No votes waiting in KS unless they can force more wards of the state on 99 weeks of unemployment.

Send the jobs to Brazil? Sure. So the USA can buy the adoration of all those countries we alienated during the Bush administration?

JSL909 on January 7, 2012 at 8:39 PM

critics have noted that Sierra Nevada is more of a front company and the actual manufacturer would be Brazilian-based Embraer

critics are correct.
____________________

from the sierra nevada corporation website (link):

SNC is a Privately Held Corporation and is also the Top Woman Owned Federal Contractor in the U.S. based on its size, significant achievements, and resources to deliver high-technology systems and integration programs.

____________________

from an article in the inside business: hamption roads business journal

(“New ruling by U.S. agency benefits women-owned firms”)

Women-owned businesses will have a better chance of getting federal contracts under a new ruling…Government rules mandate that the Department of Defense award 5 percent of its contracts to women-owned businesses

____________________

white, straight, christian conservative males have it so easy in america.

McNinja on January 7, 2012 at 11:34 PM

By the very nature of an asymmetrical fight, “we” (that is, the DemoLibMedia that speaks to the world for America) will be loathe to put our military pilots at any significant risk, and will (be convinced to by the above) run away when the first one of them gets killed, even though that is (regrettably) an explicit part of the job description.

Therefore if you want to know what kind of attack plane will actually do the job for America – i.e. will be deployed, and stay deployed and actually be effective, you need only Google the words “titanium bathtub”.

I’ll be here all week, and be sure to tip your waitress.

drunyan8315 on January 8, 2012 at 12:42 AM

The US military has needed a decent mud fighter for ages; and the Army should get to fly them as well.

Let the high $ air-force lads play tag with their enemy counter-parts, and keep the skies clear.

Bombing the snot out of savages doesn’t take an 8 (or 9) figure airframe and a multimillion $ pilot (total up the costs of training of world-class combat pilot).

It just takes uncontested skies, a decent platform, and pilots trained from the get-go for CAS missions that fully understand the needs of ground-pounders.

There’s a reason Army aviation re-adopted their old branch symbol… give them the aircraft to do it with. The Air Force aren’t the only folks that know how to teach people to fly (especially low & slow).

CPT. Charles on January 8, 2012 at 1:15 AM

give them (army) the aircraft to do it with. – cpt. charles

exactly.

last time the USAAC roundel was on a fixed-wing, it was pure dominance.

McNinja on January 8, 2012 at 2:17 AM

First,.. The US Air Force rules,.. no one owns the skies but us.

Second, I’m quite sure this was a purely political intervention, these Obama appointee’s are little short of insane mostly.

Third,.. the debate between ground attack for the Army should be Army pilots.. vs. The Air Force owning all fixed wing has gone on since the birth of the Air Force. As a dedicated blue suiter,.. I do sometimes wonder if separating the Air Force from the Army was such a good idea.

It came about mostly, over budget battles between those wanting to replace aging battle tanks, and those wanting newer generation jets to replace the WW II air fleet. It’s gets even more complicated when just inside the Air Force alone,.. there is the priesthood of jet pilots, vs the looked down upon CAS pilots. The A-10 was a massive victory against the fighter jocks who always opt to use a hammer to kill a fly, their nature.

In the sixties the Air Force forced the issue and the Army was prohibited from operating fixed wing aircraft. I’m torn on the issue, and I can see the Army’s point,.. I was a security specialist SP, we recieved our training from Rangers, and wargamed against the regular Army. So I have a foot in each camp. CAS is something we’d talk about,.. I served cold war, never got shot at, so I do listen when combat vets tell me what they need. The problems come about when services are forced to compete for dollars when they have real needs..

The F-15 is old, being overtaken by new Russian designs,. the Su series.. we need the F-22 to maintain our supremecy of the skies. The Army and Marines need new generation CAS, as the A-10 are limited in number, and lack the long loiter time needed.

Both have to fight for limited dollars..

Doesn’t help when Congressmen waste money on outmoded bases, which they use as jobs programs. Or on unwanted systems the military didn’t ask for because of where the plant is, and who sits in the Chairmans seat. Too much is wasted for political reasons.. I just wish I knew how to change it.

The Army’s right, but so is the Air Force,.. they shouldn’t have to fight each other for mission critical equipment.

mark81150 on January 8, 2012 at 11:22 AM

There are several issues here. One has existed since 1947 when the Army Air Force was stripped from the Army and given independence. the Army was royally screwed in that transaction when they took all TacAir with them. The problems started in Korea and have gone through the most recent conflicts.

The Air Force has always wanted to be a strategic service and have short shrift to its close air support duties to the Army. It is why the Army started arming choppers in Vietnam. Some, like former artillery officer Dr. Jerry Pournelle, have argued that the Air Force has forfeit its right to an independent existence. From a CAS standpoint, I have to agree just based on our military history. From a strategic standpoint it is not true however.

At this point, the most effective tactical air craft we have is the A-10. While it is out of production, the line could be resurrected, although tooling and jigs would have to re-created as the Air Force often orders destruction of the production equipment (I understand that Lockheed has preserved the tooling and jigs for the F-22, an aircraft that we need in far larger numbers than we have now). We can leave the air superiority mission to the Air Force, where it belongs, and transfer the CAS mission and AC to the Army where they belong. The Army and AAF worked out the TAC mission very well during WW2 with a separate TAC command assigned to each field Army. We have not been in a conflict since where the idea would not worked well. Also, if Army realizes they now own the CAS mission themselves, the concern for its maintenance would be taken far more seriously. At this point it’s the problem of the Air Force and its weakness is something teh Army can point a finger at because they can blame someone else rather than themselves.

During WW2 a radial engine was built to run on diesel to provide power to a tank. I am not aware of how extensive the production was, but the fact is the engine existed. There is a problem, however, with prop driven AC being powered by diesel engines and that is the large amount of violent vibration. General Aviation AC seem to have propeller problems after about 300 hours when driven by diesels. It seems the stronger power pulses from a compression ignition engine pretty much destroys the hydraulic prop control mechanisms. The Skyraider engine was about 2000hp and makes the diesel on a Cessna 182 (230hp) minuscule by comparison. The prop can be built heavier, but not that much heavier. As a result, the turboprop is the only way to get a high power engine while allowing the fuel efficiency required for the loiter time required of a CAS AC.

I have seen the paper specs of the the proposed AT-6 vs the Super Tucano (ST), and the AT-6 loses hands down. The ST has been around for quite awhile and already serves in several 3rd world Air Forces and has performed well. The AT-6 would have to be placed on a development track, with all the attendant delays and costs that will require. The ST is ready to go now, all they have to do is assemble them. The AF needs them soon, not 10 years from now.

There is some concern about Embraer, however. I suspect the SEC investigation will uncover corrupt practices on the part of Embraer. If that happens, then Embraer will be banned from supplying anything to FedGov. Frankly, I doubt Embraer is worried about this. they supply little to us now, and that is not likely to change much. Obama, OTOH, should be worried, but he’s so corrupt I doubt he’s worried about much of anything. Hopefully the next POTUS will put his tail in jail where it belongs.

Quartermaster on January 8, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Or, because maybe the USAF had a better idea what plane works better, than all of you airchair analysts who know nothing about the planes involved, or even about the mission they are needed for.

The Super Tucano was designed from the outset with a capability to be armed. The Beech T-6 II was never designed for that, and it is not as capable as the Tucano. The US Navy/SEAL community has been working with the Tucano in an evaluation for years now, do a google search on “Imminent Fury”

http://www.military.com/news/article/secret-program-works-to-field-seal-plane.html

Its more important to be able to loiter for a while overhead, rather than be really pointy and fast, and then have to leave in an half hour to get more gas.

firepilot on January 8, 2012 at 6:12 PM

A TURBRO-PROP!? What kind of application does that have?

LordJack on January 7, 2012 at 3:12 PM

Counterinsurgency after elections suspended.

/paulbot

roy_batty on January 8, 2012 at 6:34 PM

The T-6 is a trainer and serves as a small transport as well. The contract went to a company in Brazil when we have a Company right here that could build it and make some new jobs in the area. At one time Military Procurement required all equipment and supplies be manufactured in the US by US Companies. Should be that way still.

old war horse on January 9, 2012 at 6:57 AM

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