Frivolous lawsuits impacting military readiness
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The challenges facing our military forces are difficult enough with extended deployments, aging equipment, and competing funding among the services. When you add mission uncertainty, pilot shortages and the shortsighted interests of some defense contractors, who are sacrificing military training for their own financial well-being, the challenges become nearly insurmountable.

Fortunately, recently the U.S. Federal Court of appeals took steps to reverse one recent, egregious example.  Two years ago, Leonardo’s helicopter division, which is part of an Italian aerospace firm based in Rome, filed suit against the U.S. Army, in an attempt to bring to a halt the Army’s Congressionally-approved acquisition of helicopters for training pilots at Fort Rucker, Alabama. 

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The Army made a smart decision to re-purpose the existing UH-72A Lakota fleet from other utility missions to training, a mission that many Lakota’s were already performing. But just 16 more aircraft were required to round out its fleet of nearly 200 trainers.  Leonardo, who bid on and lost the Army’s original competition back in 2006, thought the Army should be forced to spend taxpayer dollars on a competition for those last 16 Lakotas. Presumably, they wanted the Army to run and maintain a training fleet that was 90 percent Lakotas and ten percent Leonardo aircraft. 

Finally, the courts have freed the Army to proceed, though it remains to be seen if Leonardo will go back to court to stop the Army yet again.

Leonardo’s actions demonstrate a belief that their company interests take precedence over the training needs of the Army’s pilots and military readiness. This is not the fault of the Congress.  It is not the fault of the Army or the courts.  Leonardo is holding Army readiness hostage with this lawsuit, and if successful will cost taxpayers millions of dollars and create an inefficient training fleet, resulting in decreased readiness for our forces.

Ironically, as Leonardo exacerbates the Army’s pilot shortage,  it is simultaneously bidding to replace the Air Force’s aging T-38 training aircraft with their Italian-made M346 aircraft; a paradox for sure. 

Hopefully, when the Air Force makes the award for their new trainer in about five months, any potential protesting company will go through the traditional U.S. GAO process which only takes 100 days to adjudicate a protest. Leonardo, which holds no sizable U.S. defense contracts and therefore has nothing to lose by breaking the system, has instead used legal actions that have dragged out over two years in its efforts to thwart the Army.

Our military services deserve better than this. What’s needed now is more funding to enhance the training of our pilots and maintainers and the elimination of frivolous lawsuits from companies like Leonardo who have become skilled at holding the services hostage whenever they a lose government contract.

Former Sen. Trent Lott served as Majority Leader of the United States Senate and represented the state of Mississippi in the Senate for 19 years. The Lakota helicopter is built in his home state of Mississippi. In addition, Lott previously served on the EADS North America/Airbus Board of Directors and is currently a consultant to Airbus Group in the U.S.