Who should build our next light attack aircraft?

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?