Appeal against AT-6 exclusion from LAS bid

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Aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) has requested a review of the US Air Force (USAF) Light Air Support (LAS) bidding process, after the USAF notified the firm that its AT-6 fixed-wing aircraft had been excluded from continuing in the process.

Hawker said the letter it received provided no basis for the exclusion, adding: “We are both confounded and troubled by this decision, as we have been working closely with the Air Force for two years and, with our partners Lockheed Martin, CMC Esterline, Pratt & Whitney Canada, L-3 WESCAM and CAE, have invested more than $100 million preparing to meet the Air Force’s specific requirements.” Additionally, the AT-6 has been evaluated and proven capable through a multi-year, Congressionally-funded demonstration programme led by the Air National Guard, said Hawker. The firm continued: “We have followed the Air Force’s guidance closely and, based on what we have seen, we continue to believe that we submitted the most capable, affordable and sustainable light attack aircraft as measured against the Air Force’s Request for Proposal. We have requested a debriefing from the Air Force.”

The Light Air Support concept is to combine low-tech airframes with high-tech systems to create a cost-effective, light attack aircraft to provide surveillance with strike capabilities at a far lower cost than high-performance fighters such as F-16s. Missions pegged out for such aircraft include combat search and rescue, mapping areas during fires and flooding, or for supporting border security, counter drug and homeland defence.

Speaking in 2010, Lt Col Keith Colmer, developmental test pilot and director of engineering for the USAF Reserve Command Test Center (AATC), commented that during more than 100 combat hours he spent flying close air support missions in F-16s over Iraq in 2008, he served as an eye in the sky for Army elements, but rarely engaged the enemy on their behalf: "We are paying a high cost to fly an F-16 in terms of fuel and wear and tear for missions that don't require the full capabilities of the airplane … a light attack platform could take on these kinds of missions and lighten the load.”

Giving a sense of the cost savings, an A-10 or F-16 comes in at around $16,000 per flight hour for fuel and maintenance, compared to just $600 for the AT-6, according to the USAF.

Hawker’s AT-6 is an armed version of the T-6 Texan II, a single-engined turboprop plane, which was developed from the Pilatus PC-9 in the 1990s. Along with manual flight controls, the aircraft features mission computers, situational awareness data links, radios, helmet-mounted cueing systems, threat countermeasures and armament pylons more usually seen on advanced fighter and attack aircraft such as the A-10.

Image:

Pilot Major Jesse Smith from the USAF 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron exits an AT-6C at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, after testing the aircraft’s ability to perform a CSAR mission, October 2010

USAF / Maj. Gabe Johnson

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