Embraer wins light support aircraft contract, again

February 28, 2013

Embraer Embraer A-29 Super Tucano


The Air Force, acting to award a year-delayed contract to acquire a light attack aircraft for use in Afghanistan, selected Brazilian manufacturer Embraer and its U.S. partner, Sierra Nevada Corp., to supply 20 A-29 Super Tucano turboprops to the military at a total cost of $427 million. Embraer had been awarded the same contract in an earlier round of bidding that was later nullified.

The aircraft, which Embraer said will be built in Jacksonville, Fla., will serve in reconnaissance and light-air-support roles, and as a trainer for the Afghan Air Force, said the Defense Department.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter notified Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim of the decision in a phone call.

“The Light Air Support program is essential to the United States’ objectives in Afghanistan and to our national security. It is a great honor to serve our country by providing the aircraft, training and support for this program,” said Taco Gilbert, vice president of Integrated Tactical Solutions for Sierra Nevada’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance business sector, in an Embraer news release.

Rival bidder Hawker Beechcraft had not decided whether to pursue the issue now, said a newspaper report. Kansas-based Hawker-Beechcraft had put up its AT-6 turboprop single in the bidding against Embraer, and had been optimistic that test-range results last year strengthened its case for winning the contract. Embraer pointed out that the A-29 was already in production, and deployed. Hawker-Beechcraft countered by beginning production of the AT-6.

“Although the U.S. Air Force did not select the AT-6 Light Attack Aircraft for the Light Air Support program, Beechcraft is committed to advancing the aircraft’s capabilities and continues to pursue additional close air support opportunities,” according Beechcraft news release. “We are disappointed that our proposal was not chosen. We will meet with the USAF for a full debrief of the award and determine our next steps forward at that time.”

The original contract award was reversed in a surprise announcement on Feb. 28, 2012. Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley issued a brief statement informing parties that the selection of Embraer had been set aside pending a review of procurement processes that had been described by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as “deeply flawed.”

The Air Force also noted at the time that project funding would expire in 2013, a scenario which led analysts to question whether the project would withstand developments including the course of the Afghanistan war—and budget cuts.

Embraer says it is poised to act on the contract award decision, and on its business plan for the U.S. market.

“We are ready to start working and honored to support the U.S. Government and its partners with a cost-effective solution,” said Luiz Carlos Aguiar, president and CEO of Embraer’s Defense and Security unit. “We are committed to pursuing our investment strategy in the United States and to delivering these aircraft on schedule and within budget.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.