* Afghan air force needs planes for close air support
* General vows "hell to pay" if not innocent mistake
* Investigation under way
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Feb 29 U.S. Air Force
officials must quickly redo a competition for 20 airplanes for
the Afghan air force after substandard documentation forced the
service to scrap a $355 million contract award, the top Air
Force general said on Wednesday.
Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz
acknowledged the issue was an embarrassment for the Air Force,
which struggled with acquisition problems over the last decade,
and said "there would be hell to pay" if the documentation
problem was not an innocent mistake.
The Air Force on Tuesday abruptly canceled a contract
awarded to Sierra Nevada Corp and Brazil's Embraer in
December for 20 light-support aircraft to be used for training
the Afghan air force, and said it was investigating problems
with documents used to make the decision.
"If in fact this was a failed source selection, it is a
profound disappointment," Schwartz told a defense reporters
breakfast. "Not only because our institutional reputation is at
stake, let's face it, but also because our Afghan partners need
Schwartz said there were also budget pressures to quickly
redo the competition, since funds for the program expire at the
end of fiscal year 2013.
Asked if the program could be completely eliminated given
mounting budget pressures, Schwartz said the planes were still
essential to giving the Afghan air force the ability to provide
close air support for ground troops.
He said the U.S. Air Force decided to cancel a contract
award after discovering substandard documentation for the
decision while preparing for a lawsuit filed by competitor
Hawker Beechcraft Inc.
The Air Force has told the companies it is still deciding
whether to restart the contract award process with new rules or
to retain the previous rules, but Hawker would be allowed to
participate after being knocked out of the competition last
year. It will also seek to have Hawker's lawsuit dismissed.
The Air Force's acquisition team has struggled to rebuild
its reputation after a series of embarrassing reversals during a
decade-long battle between Boeing Co and Europe's EADS
to build 179 refueling aircraft for the U.S. military.
Schwartz said he believed that systemic issues that emerged
from the tanker scandal had been resolved, but the Air Force
clearly still had work to do on its acquisition system.
"We obviously haven't arrived at the point where we are
consistently providing the level of acquisition excellence
that's expected," he said. "There's no way to put a happy face
The Air Force in December awarded privately held Sierra
Nevada and Brazilian planemaker Embraer an order for 20 A-29
Super Tucano aircraft, as well as ground training devices and
support, to be used to train the Afghan air force, and give them
the planes needed for close air support.
The deal was potentially worth up to $1 billion, depending
on future orders.
The service issued a stop-work order in January after Hawker
Beechcraft filed a lawsuit challenging the decision, but said at
the time it believed the competition and source selection
evaluation had been fair, open and transparent.
Sierra Nevada, prime contractor on the bid with Embraer, and
Hawker Beechcraft both said they hoped to compete for the work
in a follow-on competition.