May 4, 2012 / 11:40 PM / in 6 years

US Air Force seeks 2014 delivery of Afghan planes

WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Friday released final, revamped rules for a new competition to supply 20 light attack planes to Afghanistan, after it abruptly cancelled its previous contract with Sierra Nevada Corp and Brazil’s Embraer.

The Air Force posted the final amended request for proposals on Friday evening after sending details to the two original offerers -- Sierra Nevada and Hawker Beechcraft -- earlier.

The final rules appeared little changed from a draft that had drawn criticism from Sierra Nevada.

“While the decision process will be event-driven, the Air Force targets a source selection decision in early calendar year 2013,” said Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy. “This would allow first aircraft delivery to Afghanistan in third quarter 2014,” about 15 months later than initially planned.

The companies must submit their new proposals by June 4.

The Air Force decided to toss out its earlier contract with Sierra Nevada and revise the rules for the competition after losing bidder Hawker Beechcraft challenged the award in federal court. The case has embarrassed U.S. military officials and sparked questions about U.S. procurement practices in Brazil.

An internal Air Force investigation found that the $355 million contract with privately held Sierra Nevada, which was set aside in February, had been granted without following the proper decision-making process, Reuters reported last month. It found no deliberate misconduct in the case.

The amended rules retain the same requirements for the planes, but include several revisions “designed to streamline proposal preparation and subsequent evaluation,” the Air Force said.

Sierra Nevada filed a motion last month to challenge the Air Force’s changes, which were then still in draft form, but appear to have been adopted largely unchanged. No comment was immediately available from the company on Friday.

Hawker, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this week, said it was evaluating the revamped request for proposals and would comment further next week.

The changes call for the companies to submit fixed-price proposals for potential future planes beyond the 20 in the initial order, and remove the requirement for a demonstration flight, a sore point with Sierra Nevada and Embraer.

The rules also put off a “first article test” of the new planes until after the award is granted and dropped a requirement for testing of associated ground training devices.

The Air Force also said it had appointed a new, higher-level source selection team to evaluate the companies’ proposals. It said the new team would not have access to any of the previous materials or accounts of talks between the companies and the government team.

The Air Force is continuing a second phase of its internal investigation to assess whether there are systemic problems with its acquisition system, or whether the Afghan plane competition was an isolated case.

The U.S Air Force is handling the largely American-funded purchase of the light attack planes, which will be supplied to Afghanistan’s fledging air force. Doubts are mounting about the overall readiness of the Afghan military to take charge of security in the country, which suffered heavy, coordinated insurgent attacks on Sunday.

The case is being closely watched in Brazil, where officials were still smarting from the cancellation of an earlier contract with Lockheed Martin Corp for a reconnaissance plane based on Embraer’s ERJ-145 regional jet.

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