Transparency is a must when it comes to the use of taxpayer dollars. That is why I am troubled by all of the twists and turns associated with the U.S. Air Force’s procurement competition for 20 light-support aircraft for the Afghan air force.
Top Air Force officials have acknowledged that the issue is an embarrassment for the organization. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz went so far as to say that this case has put the institution’s reputation at stake.
In fact, the only transparent thing about this competition is its lack of transparency.
The LAS competition and resulting contract go far beyond the 20 LAS aircraft. What has been obscured are the broader U.S. national security objectives and their important implications. A major strategy of the United States government is to advance its foreign policy through partnerships with fledgling air forces. The ability to accomplish this goal rests upon the Air Force’s use of aircraft familiar to the U.S. and its partners.
When prioritizing these objectives and policies, it was particularly puzzling that the domestically manufactured Hawker Beechcraft AT 6 was disqualified from the procurement competition this past November, prior to final source selection.
Choosing the AT 6 aircraft would translate into more than 1,400 sustained American jobs for numerous suppliers around the country, including about 800 jobs at the Hawker Beechcraft facility in Wichita.
The potential for future sales to other international partners and the U.S. military represents up to an additional 500 aircraft. This is the type of economic growth that government can provide to get the U.S. back on the road to economic recovery with good jobs.
The T-6 Texan II and the U.S. military share an extensive history that has been very successful. Almost two decades ago, a hotly contested, full and open competition that focused on the needs of the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System led the Defense Department to select the T-6. Since the planes began rolling off the line in 2000, every U.S. military aviator has used the T-6 as a part of his or her basic training.
Hawker Beechcraft, in concert with industrial allies such as Lockheed Martin, Esterline, Pratt & Whitney and CAE, have invested more than $100 million in the AT 6 to ensure that it meets every specification requirement for procurement.
Since 1932, Hawker Beechcraft and its Wichita employees have produced more than 14,500 military aircraft. That includes more than 740 T-6 aircraft, some of which have been weaponized for more than a decade.
This American manufacturer deserves a fair and transparent competition in accordance with all appropriate evaluation criteria and provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation. The U.S. aerospace industry is the finest in the world and is not afraid of competition. But competition must take place on a level playing field.
I urge the Obama administration to monitor the ongoing process to ensure that the selection is made based on the merits. The AT 6, a low-risk, low-cost solution that meets operational needs, is the clear choice for this contract.
I will continue to work with our Congressional delegation to fight for Kansas workers.
Sam Brownback is the Republican governor of Kansas and a former Senator and House Member.