The most recent request by the USAF is for aircraft that can perform light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) functions. The envisioned highly-maneuverable and affordable aircraft is designed to support counter-insurgency tactics in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. The ultimate goal is not just for our American pilots to fulfill these duties, but because of the simplicity of the aircraft, airmen in partnering nations can be trained to fly it and defend themselves.
The two competitors working toward this goal are Hawker Beechcraft, a Kansas based company participating in a joint venture with Lockheed Martin specifically to enter this competition, and Embraer, and a Brazilian owned and operated company. Hawker Beechcraft has a long lineage of aviation design and production and a proven history of providing aircraft to the USAF and other military branches.
Hawker Beechcraft’s T-6 trainer aircraft, off of which the AT-6 is being developed for this contract, has recently passed the one million flight hour mark as well as the 500th delivery with aircraft being flown by the USAF, U.S. Navy, and by the military pilots from many of our allied nations. This general sense of familiarity surrounding the T-6 makes the new attack version very popular among those who would fly and service.
Awarding the contract to Hawker Beechcraft would create and sustain over 1,400 American jobs and positively impact the numerous supplier companies across 18 states that will work on this program. Embraer’s proposal will result in a mere 50 final assembly positions in Florida.
Hawker Beechcraft is an American company employing American workers and producing an American military aircraft. Given the current state of our economy, taxpayer dollars should not be funding the growth of foreign nations. Nor should we put our country at risk of supply cut- offs due to conflicts or retaliation by governments that do not always agree with us. Our military industrial base is a critical national security asset, and the issue here is not just about this contract but about who will be producing our military equipment for decades to come.
Adding to the numerous reasons Hawker Beechcraft should win this USAF contract is the fact that their aircraft suits a much wider range of pilots. The AT-6 aircraft is designed to accommodate 95 percent of both male and female pilots safely, while its counterpart, the Brazilian EMB314 is designed to meet older standards that due to weight and size, drastically shrink the population of pilots, particularly female pilots, able to safely fly the aircraft.
Our nation is at a critical juncture, both economically and diplomatically. The AT-6 represents the best of what America’s manufacturers and our workforce have to offer in terms of design, production and technology. The members of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers have a vested interest in keeping our country safe and strong, and we have a responsibility to keep American workers on the job. The selection of Hawker Beechcraft for this contract would clearly be another win-win for America.
Rich Michalski is general vice president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM&AW).