The USAF LAS Source Selection Fumbling: Strategic Consquences

By Ed Timperlake

On Friday May 4th at 5:13 pm, the Air Force Materiel Command, Aeronautical Systems Center released an amendment to the competition for a Light Air Support (LAS) Aircraft.

The amendment precludes a fly-off.

In fact, it states that the previous fly-off cannot be considered in the evaluation-because the changes “are designed to provide clarity and to streamline proposal preparation and subsequent evaluation”. (Section h).

The mightiest airpower force in history has determined at their senior leadership level that there should not be a “fly-off.”

So the combat controllers, the heroic airmen who fight and at times die with dust and blood on their boots calling in airstrikes in Afghanistan, will not be given the best aircraft as determined by in-flight performance.

The fly-off would have been between a world class combat proven aircraft the Embraer Air SuperTucano, there are 150+ in an operational combat roles, against the Hawker Beech AT-6, a company in bankruptcy.

Instead, individuals in cubicles will look at pieces of paper while a war rages. The absurdity of that process knows no limit but the strategic consequences are real.

The AT-6 still remains a developmental derivative airframe that used government funds to qualify for weapons certification. I believe there are now actually two AT-6 prototypes currently flying but it has never dropped a bomb nor fired it’s “pray and spray” gun-pod in combat.

The issuance of the amendment to the process, with no fly-off,  is a very sad day for a mighty and proud combat service that has never let America down.

What are they afraid of?

Just ask the 12th Air Force about their experience with SuperTucano

“The mere presence of the Brazilian made intercept planes (SuperTucano) and alerts by U.S. air surveillance on radar blips over the airspace have virtually halted all drug airdrops in Dominican Republic….

The 12th Air Force is known as the “Doolittle Raiders” and just like the great “30 Seconds over Tokyo” raid by Col Doolittle’s legacy, it is in capable hands.

However, this time they are supporting U.S. national security objectives much closer to home. The “Doolittle Raiders” are part of the mission espoused in the vision statement made by the US Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM)…

World wide possibilities (for USAF and SuprtTucano) are abundant, Indonesia, Afghanistan and hopefully some day back to the Philippines. There is no need for “Hi” US tactical aircraft — just “Hi” American platform censors — and the “Lo” capabilities of the Super Tucano which is battle tested and perfect for the mission.

Meanwhile, Inside the Beltway, a very decent man General Norton Schwartz was quoted “Lower risk is the better strategy for this time,” said Schwartz. One example is a new bomber aircraft program the service soon will start — to keep costs down, the specs for that airframe will be less complex than initially planned.

But “I think it will make it easier for industry to deliver,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said improving weapons program performance means both industry and the Pentagon will have to change.

“I’m ensuring the Air Force is doing its part,” he told The Hill. “Industry has to do better.”

However, but by fumbling the buy of 20 Light Air Support aircraft essentially  “off the shelf” in the same amount of time it took from Pearl Harbor to Normandy raises question about the validity of such oversight.

If you can not buy urgent, off-the-shelf LAS aircraft, how credible is the rest of your strategy?

And there are strategic consequences.

The USAF bureaucratic process has created an international Presidential dust-up with the sixth largest emerging Economy in the world Brazil.

And it gets worse.  Dropping the purchase of the Super Tucano without a real explanation is not acceptable.

Where is a transparent explanation of what went wrong?  You can not start over without telling us why it was necessary in the first place.

In other words, while engaged in a legendary historic debacle, they also have not explained what their much touted  “investigation” determined.

Congress, the President and Brazil deserve much more public information than an arm wave that their justification for the redo as stated  ..

” response to a protest filed by an offeror in the Court of Federal Claims.”

Perhaps an FBI Preliminary Inquiry (PI) would get to the bottom of what really occurred.

If this process is allowed to continue, even if the Super Tucano wins, it is a sad legacy for a great combat service.

And my personal experience has been based on respect for the USAF. As a very ill USMC fighter pilot, I trusted my life with being medically evacuated from combat in a USAF C-9 Nightingale.

The USAF has never ever let America and their fellow Army, Navy and Marine warriors down IN COMBAT.

It is time to end all this foolishness and select the SuperTucano immediately and get on with a successful Afghan Transition-ASAP.

To be clear, there are three strategic consequences to date of what the USAF leadership has done or not done to be correct.

First, the Afghan transition has been slowed down.  The LAS was to be inserted many years ago to help the U.S. forces to LEAVE. Consider Pearl Harbor as Year 1 and we are still waiting after the same amount of time from Year 1 to post Normandy. Imagine General Eishenhower trying to do the invasion but without equipment because the process of buying stuff was constantly ongoing without actually buying anything.  The Greatest Generation would not have stood for this I am sure.

Second, the USAF’s own procurement credibility, which has been a problem for some time, is further eroded, which certainly does not help in generating broad public support for their needs.

Third, the relationship with Brazil has been further damaged, at precisely a time when Secretary Panetta and the Administration have clearly lobbied in public for Brazil to take the F-18 seriously in the Brazilian fighter competition.

It is not about Brazilian pique.  It is about the credibility of the U.S., its acquisition processes and its global leadership role.

This is not even leadership from behind.









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4 responses to “The USAF LAS Source Selection Fumbling: Strategic Consquences”

  1. R F says:

    I have a feeling that there wont be a “fly-off” because of the subjectivity of the event. The US acquisition process has been destroyed by large companies who protest when they lose to another company, instead of providing a superior product to begin with.

  2. Zilon X says:

    Very interesting and correct article. But I want to remember something about Brazil and USA army deals. Some years ago, brazilians and italians developed a very interesting fighter jet: the AMX. Please read this text from Wikipedia, for understanding of what I’m saying about: “As the United States did not permit the sale of the M61 to Brazil, its AMXs are instead fitted with two 30 mm DEFA 554 revolver cannons.”. This – the italian version of the AMX received the vulcan, but the brazilian version not, and the project was delayed and modified because of this. This is just the tip of the iceberg – the situation was ever, ever just that, from every armed forces branch point of view. The situation now is certainly different, but the people of Brazil just do not want Boeing fighters.

  3. Alan Turner says:

    I am in agreement that a “fly-off” would probably be the most practical and informative decision making process. Welcome Tucano team to the non-explanation portion of this activity. And why bring bankruptcy into this discussion when it has no bearing in this situation. Let the companies battle this out without biased retoric from the outside.

    • Office Numpty says:

      Why bring bankruptcy into the dicussion? Because federal acquisition regulations still apply to this purchase; see FAR 9.103(b)”The award of a contract to a supplier based on lowest evaluated price alone can be false economy if there is subsequent default, late deliveries, or other unsatisfactory performance resulting in additional contractual or administrative costs. While it is important that Government purchases be made at the lowest price, this does not require an award to a supplier solely because that supplier submits the lowest offer. A prospective contractor must affirmatively demonstrate its responsibility, including, when necessary, the responsibility of its proposed subcontractors.”

      That’s why.

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