Work on spy planes interrupted

Shortly after a Nevada company had been given the green light to produce 20 manned spy planes for training pilots and fighting insurgents in Afghanistan, the Air Force halted work on the contract when a competitor protested the bid in Federal Claims Court.

Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Sparks, had been awarded the $355 million contract on Dec. 22 for the first 20 of an indefinite quantity of light air support (LAS) aircraft, the A-29 Super Tucano. The contract called for the single-engine, turboprop planes to be built by Sierra Nevada’s partner, Embraer, in Jacksonville, Fla., for delivery in April 2013.

Sierra Nevada said the A-29 Super Tucano is designed to fight insurgents in Afghanistan’s rugged terrain because of its capabilities to deliver a variety of precision-guided munitions and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The planes also would be used to conduct advanced flight training for U.S. and Afghan pilots.

Then on Wednesday, the Air Force issued a temporary stop-work order on the contract, citing litigation pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C.

A competitor, Hawker Beechcraft Defense Co., filed an emergency motion Dec. 27 for a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction or both, challenging the Air Force’s decision to exclude Hawker Beechcraft from the competitive bid on Nov. 1.

Many of the court papers remain sealed under a protective order by Judge George W. Miller to safeguard the confidentiality of competition-sensitive information.

Miller dismissed Hawker Beechcraft’s emergency motion as moot after lawyers agreed with the Air Force’s decision Wednesday to issue a temporary stop-work order.

Lt. Col. Wesley “Jack” Miller, the Air Force’s chief spokesman at the Pentagon, released a statement, saying, “The competition and source selection evaluation were fair, open and transparent.

“The Air Force is confident in the merits of its contract award decision and anticipates that the litigation will be quickly resolved,” Miller said.

Similarly, Sierra Nevada officials released a statement, expressing confidence that the matter would be “resolved expeditiously.”

“These critical LAS capabilities need to be made available soon in order to support our men and women in uniform and our partners in Afghanistan,” Sierra Nevada’s statement said.

Hawker Beechcraft officials responded to questions Thursday from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, saying their AT-6 Light Air Support aircraft “is superior for the missions” that the Air Force had described in its request for proposals.

“We adhered to the Air Force’s guidance closely for more than two years and, based on what we have seen, continue to believe we have the best aircraft,” Hawker Beechcraft officials said.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@review or 702-383-0308.

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