Kansas legislators probe Chuck Hagel’s involvement in defense contract

Kansan legislators on Friday asked the Department of Defense to provide an explanation for its decision to award a tax dollar-funded defense contract to a pricier, foreign bidder at a time of mandatory financial restraint.

Republican Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, along with Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last week seeking answers regarding his department’s decision to award the Light Air Support (LAS) contract to Sierra Nevada Corporation.

After three years of collaboration and lawsuits, the Sierra Nevada Corp. was awarded the $427.5 million LAS contract to provide the Air Force with 20 light air support planes, which were to be given to the Afghan military for training within the next five years. The contract was awarded Feb. 27.

Sierra Nevada Corp. teamed up with Embraer, a Brazilian aircraft maker, and presented Embraer’s Super Tucano as their model vehicle, the Air Force Times reported.

The other corporation vying for the contract was Beechcraft, formerly known as Hawker Beechcraft, an American aircraft manufacturer located in Kansas. Beechcraft presented the AT-6 Light Attack Aircraft.

The Air Force rejected Beechcraft’s model because it was unclear whether the AT-6 could receive certification in the five years originally allotted to the corporations to complete the project, according to the Kansan legislators. Despite lawsuits, which delayed the decision-making process a whole year, the Air Force did not extend its deadline.

“This is an unreasonable concern given the history of [Beechcraft’s] aircraft certification in both the civil and military spheres,” the legislators said in the letter to Hagel. “Additionally, the accelerated timeline in this competition is due directly to the failures of the Air Force in the previous LAS procurement, which caused nearly a year’s delay.”

In 2011, Sierra Nevada Corp. was awarded the LAS contract, but the agreement was scrapped when Hawker Beecher filed a lawsuit because it was eliminated from the competition.

The Air Force canceled the contract with Sierra Nevada in March of 2012 after an investigation revealed a flaw in the bidding process. Sierra Nevada then sued in June, claiming the revised process favored Hawker Beechcraft, The Wichita Eagle reported.

Beechcraft’s bid was 30 percent lower than Embraer’s, because the AT-6 was less expensive to manufacture than the Super Tucano, according to USAF documents.