Company Seeks to Maintain Fairness, Transparency Of Acquisition Process
In response to the lawsuit filed by Hawker Beechcraft, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) filed an action in the United States Court of Federal Claims Tuesday to seek reinstatement of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Light Air Support (LAS) contract awarded to the company last December. SNC partnered with Embraer to provide the A-29 Super Tucano for the LAS mission. Following a lawsuit by the disqualified competitor, the USAF set aside the contract in March and opened a Commander Directed Investigation (CDI) into the source selection process. According to SNC the cancellation of the contract was an extreme response to what appears to be paperwork errors on the part of the USAF. Moreover, the revised Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the USAF is tilted in favor of the competition.
“SNC does not have a history of litigation. We are taking this step only after very serious deliberation and exhausting the other avenues available to us to address our concerns,” said Taco Gilbert, Vice President of ISR Business Development at SNC. “Despite repeated written and verbal attempts, we have not received adequate explanation – much less justification – for the termination of our contract, the reopening of the LAS competition or the readmission to the LAS competition of our competitor whose submission was previously found to be technically deficient and carry unacceptable mission capability risk.”
“What we seek is a fair and open competition – one where there is a level playing field, one that provides transparency into the decision making process, and one that selects the best value as required by the Request for Proposal. Unfortunately, based on the information we have, we are concerned that this competition will not conform to these goals,” said Gilbert.
SNC’s filing also raises specific concerns with the source selection process and revisions to Amendment 8 of the RFP. The new source selection process eliminates any flight demonstration/evaluation and moves the completion of First Article Test (FAT) of production aircraft out until delivery in July 2014. Early FAT is not a concern with the A-29, but is not possible for Hawker Beechcraft’s AT-6B which is not in production. Under the current plan, the first opportunity the Air Force will have to test the LAS aircraft is not until it has been purchased and produced. The original source selection process included flight demonstrations of training and combat mission profiles and austere field operations. The competition sought non-developmental aircraft, which by definition should be available for evaluation. SNC is very concerned that this is a similar situation to the one recently described by Secretary Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology
and Logistics, who said putting an aircraft into production prior to the first test flight is “acquisition malpractice.”
“It is unfathomable that the Air Force won’t test this aircraft until it is past the point of no return, especially when one of the aircraft in the competition is still developmental,” Gilbert said. “This has happened only rarely in DoD aircraft acquisitions and it has usually turned out very poorly for both the warfighter and the taxpayer. The Department of Defense insists on test driving ground equipment before it buys it, but now proposes not to test an airplane before purchase. One can only guess what this could end up costing the taxpayer in the future.”
As noted in the Government Accountability Office decision, the USAF concluded that the AT-6 had “multiple deficiencies and significant weaknesses” which made it “technically unacceptable and result[ed] in unacceptable mission capability risk.” Given that there are no changes to the technical requirements in the new RFP and Hawker Beechcraft’s own admission that it cannot meet the LAS requirements, a flight evaluation is the only way to thoroughly and accurately assess technical capability and risk, and eliminate the earlier concerns about SNC’s competitor.
Amendment 8 also now allows improvements that were made to the aircraft since the original source selection to be admitted into consideration. This also creates an unlevel playing field tilted in the favor of Hawker Beechcraft. The company performed development and testing operations on its AT-6 aircraft with millions of dollars of Air Force Title 10 funding during the on-going evaluation process, and continues to do so. This government funded activity, which also involved Air National Guard pilots and use of Air Force ranges, is now eligible to be unfairly admitted for consideration.