Sierra Nevada sues US over Afghan plane deal


Privately held U.S. defense contractor Sierra Nevada Corp on Tuesday said it had filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Air Force to win back a US$355 million contract to supply 20 planes to Afghanistan that was abruptly canceled in February.

Sierra Nevada, using Brazilian planemaker Embraer’s Super Tucano, beat out Hawker Beechcraft to win the contract last year, but the Air Force canceled the deal and launched a fresh competition after discovering that its own documentation of the contract award was insufficient.

Taco Gilbert, a retired Air Force officer and vice president at Sierra Nevada, said his company had filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to get the deal reinstated because it viewed the Air Force’s corrective action as “excessive.”

Gilbert said his company, together with Embraer, was not seeking an injunction against the new competition, given the urgent requirement to get the new planes to Afghanistan. He said the team would continue to participate in that process, despite its concerns over how the new competition was structured.

The Air Force last month released final, revamped rules for the new competition in May, with an eye to awarding a contract in early 2013. The bidders must submit cost and technical data for the new bids by June 18.
“We see the corrective action as excessive,” Gilbert said, adding that his company had not received any briefing from the Air Force to explain its approach to the new competition.

Embraer and Sierra Nevada have said they are disappointed that the restarted competition will not include head-to-head test flights or consider the results of a previous so-called “fly-off” between the two planes.
“In order to maintain a fair and open competition, we think that it is important to take this step,” Gilbert said.

He said he had flown to Ohio to be briefed by Air Force officials, waiting eight hours for a meeting only to have it canceled. Gilbert said his company had “tried everything we can” to better understand the Air Force’s new approach.

He said the company had never protested or filed suit against any other Pentagon contract action during his three years with the company. “This was not an easy decision,” he said. “We don’t make a practice of suing our customers.”

Hawker has also expressed concerns about the Air Force’s requirements for the follow-on competition.

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.

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.