BLOG: US and Brazilian companies compete for training aircraft contract
17 Aug 11
A decision by the US Air Force on the Light Support Aircraft (LSA) programme is expected within days. As the intense competition comes to an end, local politicians in Florida are lining up behind the industrial entities competing for a programme that could be worth approaching $1 billion over time. At a time of national introspection by every country, including the world’s largest economy, it is perhaps unsurprising that job creation and support is causing as much debate as the technical characteristics of the aircraft in question.
The programme calls for the provision of propeller-driven aircraft and an associated training system for light support missions such as those that have been conducted in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The potential number of nations that might benefit from such an aircraft is quite high, with Afghanistan itself slated to receive the first twenty aircraft from the production line.
Competing for the LSA are two proven aircraft; the A-29 Super Tucano, manufactured by Embraer of Brazil and the AT-6 manufactured by Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita, Kansas.
Embraer proposes to assemble the aircraft in Jacksonville, Florida, creating 50 new jobs there and supporting up to 1,200 further jobs in 20 states, according to the company. If Hawker Beechcraft won the production contract, over 1,400 jobs would be sustained in 37 states, claims the company.
Embraer’s US partner and the proposed prime contractor is Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, which would provide curriculum development and other aspects of the ground based training component. Hawker Beechcraft has teamed with CAE USA, where the contract could be worth $15-25 million to the Tampa-based company, and could lead to the creation of at least 25 new jobs. CAE has already invested “several million dollars” in developing a bespoke flight simulator for the AT-6, which CAE and Hawker Beechcraft unveiled at the Paris Air How in June this year. (See the feature on the AT-6 simulator scheduled to be published on the Training and Simulation Forum on 30th August.)
The Air Force decision, of course, will officially be made on the basis of technical compliance with the specification and the most cost-effective solution. However, bearing in mind the extended debate and controversy surrounding the KC-X tanker contract over the last few years, it would be disingenuous to suggest that economic benefits will have no weight in the decision process. Which is a reflection of how the edges have blurred in platform acquisition – this is not a unique situation, nor will it remain so.