Air Force catches flak for Afghan airplane deal

Sub-standard equipment built into the planes coupled with the decision to eliminate flight demos for those aircraft are raising serious concerns over the Air Force's strategy, according to industry sources. 

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Details of these shortfalls within the Air Force-run program were first reported by InsideDefense.com.

One glaring deficiency in the Air Force's blueprint for the light air support aircraft was the design of the ejection seat, sources say. 

Program planners did not take into account the smaller stature of some pilots in the Afghan army, as well as Air Force trainers assigned to advise Afghan aircrews. 

The ejection seat, when deployed, could result in serious injury or death of those smaller U.S. or Afghan pilots, sources say. 

Another cause for concern is that the Air Force has waived its need for comprehensive flight demonstrations for the Afghan air support planes. That requirement was part of the initial slate of capabilities requested by service officials for the Afghan fleet.  

News of these shortfalls comes as the Air Force attempts to salvage a deal to sell a number of these aircraft to the Afghan military. 

In April, the Air Force announced plans to amend its proposal for the planes, delaying planned deliveries of the aircraft to Kabul by 15 months.

The Air Force said its amended proposals request will be released on April 30, allowing the companies to rebid, and the Air Force expects to choose a recipient in early 2013.

Under that new time line, the plans won't reach Afghan soil until late 2013, according to service estimates. 

The Air Force had initially awarded the contract for 20 light attack aircraft for the Afghan army to Sierra Nevada and its partner, Brazilian company Embraer, after disqualifying a proposal by Kansas-based aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft.

But after Hawker Beechcraft sued in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Air Force launched an investigation and canceled the award to Embraer and Sierra Nevada in February, citing problems with its internal documentation.

On Thursday, Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy protection after reaching an agreement with its lenders that will eliminate $2.5 billion in debt.

The aviation company filed for Chapter 11 in New York as part of a restructuring deal to transfer ownership of the company to its creditors.

However, some on Capitol Hill are still rallying to the company's side, demanding answers to the ongoing issues with the Afghan aircraft program. 

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, pressed the air service to provide information to his office on the ejection seats. More than 480 Hawker Beechcraft employees work in Arkansas. 

In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley in early April, Griffin requested information on how the service was planning to address the ejection seat issue.  

The issue has created some unwanted tension between Brazil and the United States. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff discussed the issue with President Obama during a state visit to Washington in April. 

Hawker Beechcraft supporters claim a deal of this size should be carried out by an American-based defense firm, not one headquartered in South America. 

Embraer President and CEO Frederico Curado told reporters in Washington back in April that the foreign allegations were disingenuous, since Embraer and Sierra Nevada planned to build the planes in Florida.