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Super Tucano Wins USAF’s Light Attack Contest

by John Reed on December 31, 2011

It’s official, the Air Force has selected Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano as the Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft, better known as a counterinsurgency (COIN) plane.

The air service is buying 20 Super Ts from Embraer and its U.S. partner, Sierra Nevada Corporation, for $355 million, according to an announcement that Embraer released last night. Remember, a couple of years ago the Air Force planned to buy dozens of cheap, turboprop-driven COIN aircraft that could be used to provide light air support and ISR for troops fighting insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The planes were supposed to take the burden for such unglamorous missions off of jet fighters like the F-16, which cost far more to operate.  However, the draw-down from Iraq combined with shrinking defense budgets forced the air service to dramatically reduce the program. Now, the  service will use the small fleet of turboprop planes to help build up the nascent Afghan air force and the air services of “other nations.” Those last two words leave the possibility open for more Super T sales beyond those to the U.S. Air Force and Afghan air force.

“The A-29 Super Tucano will be used to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations,” reads the company announcement.

Just over a month ago, Hawker Becchcraft’s AT-6B, Embraer’s rival in the LAS contest, was booted from the competition leaving the door wide open for the Super Tucano to win. The only question was whether the service would even buy the little planes.

Click through the jump to read the full text of Embraer’s announcement:

SPARKS, NV, DECEMBER 30, 2011 – Eren Ozmen, President, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), and Luiz Carlos Aguiar, CEO, Embraer Defense and Security (Embraer), today announced that the U.S. Air Force has selected SNC, partnered with Embraer, to supply Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft to be used as part of the U.S. government’s partner building efforts in Afghanistan and other nations.  The A-29 Super Tucano will be used to conduct advanced flight training, aerial reconnaissance and light air support operations.

As specified by the Air Force, SNC is being awarded a firm-fixed price delivery order 0001 contract in the amount of $355,126,541 for the Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft and associated support.  The delivery order is being issued under the simultaneously awarded basic contract FA8637-12-D-6001, an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract.  The initial demand is for 20 LAS aircraft together with ground training devices to support pilot training and support for all maintenance and supply requirements for the aircraft and associated support equipment.

“We are honored by this decision and the opportunity to serve our country,” said Taco Gilbert, Vice President of ISR Business Development at SNC. “We believe in the goals of the Light Air Support mission and are proud to be able to support the United States in its partner-building efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.  American warfighters, American workers, and our partner nations all win with this award.”

The LAS mission requires a non-developmental solution that provides the versatility, engagement, and persistence that the warfighter needs in a counterinsurgency environment, at a significantly lower cost than fighter jets.  That aircraft must offer intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; deliver a wide variety of munitions configurations, including precision guided munitions; and operate in extremely rugged terrain and austere conditions.

The A-29 Super Tucano was built specifically for counterinsurgency missions and is currently used by six air forces and on order by others.  It has proven extremely capable for LAS missions and is credited with helping the Colombian government defeat the FARC and other governments counter illegal activities.  The more than 150 units now in operation around the world have logged over 130,000 flight hours, including more than 18,000 combat hours without any combat loss.

“We are ready to support the LAS mission immediately,” said Luiz Carlos Aguiar, President Embraer Defense and Security.  “This is a tremendous opportunity for Embraer, the citizens of Florida and the thousands of employees who will be part of our supply chain.  We look forward to working with SNC and the U.S. Air Force to provide these aircraft.”

The LAS bid process received strong support from political leaders and Members of Congress from many states, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Texas and Oregon. “The goal of Sierra Nevada’s team, which included its partner Embraer and major suppliers FLIR, based in Oregon, and Elbit Systems of America, based in Texas, was to present the U.S. Air Force and partner nations with the best LAS capability.  We appreciate the many Members of Congress and other officials who supported a fair and open competition. We are particularly grateful to the many Florida state officials and members of the Florida congressional delegation who assisted in establishing a production facility in their state that will result in the creation of new jobs, bringing prosperity to their communities,” SNC’s Gilbert said.

The A-29 Super Tucano will be built in Jacksonville, FL by American employees with parts from American companies.  Aircraft training will be provided in Clovis, NM.  More than 70 U.S. suppliers in 21 states will supply parts or services for this contract.  At least 1,200 U.S. jobs will be supported through this contract.

Embraer is now moving to prepare for assembly operations.  The new production facility in Jacksonville joins a facility in Melbourne recently opened by Embraer to assemble executive jets.

With a fully developed aircraft, a familiar supply chain and SNC’s expertise in providing in-theater logistical support, commanders in theater will take possession of the first A-29 Super Tucanos on-schedule and on-budget as per the LAS requirements.

Embraer will provide the A-29 Super Tucano aircraft; ground training devices (GTD) – simulators and planning stations; and spare parts.  SNC will provide in-field logistic support and pilot and maintenance training.

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