What makes this particular procurement decision even more interesting are the additional factors that the DoD is contending with as it considers a winning bid. Specifically, a blue-chip U.S. manufacturer is pitted against a foreign company at a time when the Pentagon is staring at significant cuts under the looming sequester and after our nation’s economy contracted last quarter- in large part due to a significant decline in defense purchases.
The two bidders for the U.S. taxpayer-funded work are U.S.-owned and operated Hawker Beechcraft and Brazilian Embraer, whose offer is being passed through a small U.S. company, Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC). It’s not the first time these two have faced-off on a defense contract. In fact, it’s not the first time these two companies have faced-off over this particular piece of business.
Late last year, the department's procurement process was handed a stunning two-part rebuke after bias and cronyism favoring Embraer was uncovered the first time this contract was awarded. In fact, the initial solicitation process and award was so flawed that the Air Force was forced to cancel it and call for a rebid. But not willing to leave well-enough alone, Embraer decided to appeal the Air Force’s decision in Court. Within weeks, a full review of the evidence led to a Federal Claims judge backing up the Air Force’s decision to scrap the award.
Now, as the DoD marks the path forward with the LAS contract, it needs to consider the current state of domestic and world affairs.
Most Americans would agree that following a decade of war and staring at a future of ever-increasing national deficits, it's appropriate for the federal government and the Department of Defense to consider appropriate measures to reduce government spending and unnecessary programs. But in doing so, military policymakers – and bean-counters alike – need to be smart in supporting the best technologies, while providing adequate equipment and training to follow-on forces in Afghanistan.
These forces will need the best we can provide to have any hope of eliminating the threats posed by Taliban and Al Qaeda. It would be a tragedy of the highest order if our country's sacrifice, and the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers and their families, was in vain as terrorists were once again allowed to flourish in the Middle East.
We simply cannot allow that to happen. And President Obama agrees.
In his inaugural address last month, he mentioned the importance of honoring our nation’s heroes by ensuring this fragile peace. “Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm.”
Clearly stopping the spread of terrorism remains a key national security imperative. Now the decision over which company to select to provide the aircraft to meet that objective should be relatively simple.
First, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 is a superior aircraft. It is a right-sized solution for the counter-insurgency challenges that Afghan fighters will face. It is the only propeller driven fixed wing aircraft to employ laser guided rockets. And every American military pilot has trained on the somewhat similar Hawker Beechcraft T-6 trainer aircraft platform. This will make it even easier for Americans to train their Afghan counterparts.
Second, over the past two weeks we've seen the U.S. economy contract and the unemployment rate tick up. Both of these are indicators that our very fragile economic recovery continues to teeter on the brink of falling back into recession. Interestingly, the Defense Department is at least partially responsible for the economic downturn as defense purchases in the fourth quarter were off more than 20 percent, the largest quarterly decline in over a generation.
If selected, Hawker Beechcraft’s bid would create and sustain more than 1,400 U.S. jobs. But if it is re-awarded to Embraer, the Brazilian economy would enjoy the benefits of hundreds of new U.S. taxpayer-funded jobs, while only 50 jobs would be located here in America.
Third, when it comes to U.S. interests and stopping terrorism, Brazil is no particular friend. Brazil did not support the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. And they refused to support a UN Security Council efforts aimed at stopping the violence in Syria and bringing a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Libya.
Outsourcing our national security is never a good idea – and certainly not to a country that did not support our nation’s efforts in the War on Terror, like Brazil.
In his opening statement of his Senate confirmation hearing, Defense Secretary-designee Hagel said “America…must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together; and…we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.”
The purpose of the Light Air Support program is to build a safe and self-reliant Afghanistan – and protect our shores from terrorists by stopping them before they get here.
And, in the end, for the Department of Defense it all boils down to a decision on whether to award this military contract to a marquee U.S. company with a stellar record of service to our nation’s soldiers or send millions of taxpayer dollars to support the economy of a South American nation who has, quite often, been critical of U.S. efforts abroad.
The choice is clear.
Arends serves as chairman of Veterans for a Strong America. He served in Iraq as an infantry platoon leader and currently serves in the Army Reserve.