The Air Force preferred Sierra Nevada Defense Corp.’s (SNC) lower-risk rating for its Light Air Support (LAS) offering, despite its nearly $137 million higher cost, compared to competitor Beechcraft’s lower priced, but higher risk, proposal, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO said in its recently-released June 13 protest ruling, in which it denied Beechcraft’s protest of the LAS award to SNC, the two companies’ offerings matched technical ratings in all five mission capability subfactors, except in risk rating for aircraft technical requirements. SNC teamed with Brazilian manufacturer Embraer [ERJ] to offer its A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft while Kansas-based Beechcraft offered its AT-6.

Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. Photo: Embraer.

GAO said the source selection authority (SSA) determined that SNC’s low risk rating offered significantly greater value to the government when weighed against Beechcraft’s high risk rating. GAO said the SSA concluded that Beechcraft’s high risk mission capability risk rating had “such potentially serious and profound program consequences that (it) would be willing to pay more than the $136.5 million price difference in order to reduce program risk.”

The February LAS contract award to SNC that Beechcraft protested is worth $427 million and could be worth $950 million if all delivery orders are exercised. Beechcraft also protested the original award to SNC in 2011, which resulted in the Air Force tossing the award over documentation issues and the appearance of bias towards SNC and restarting the competition.

GAO said earlier this month the Air Force reasonably concluded that the company’s proposed approach presented a high risk that its aircraft would not achieve a requirement of the solicitation within the requisite time period. GAO also said it denied Beechcraft’s challenge to the Air Force’s evaluation of SNC’s proposed aircraft, as well as Beechcraft’s arguments that the Air Force made an improper tradeoff decision by selecting SNC’s higher priced, but lower risk proposal.

SNC and Embraer are aiming to start delivering the A-29s to Afghanistan’s nascent air force by mid-2014 (Defense Daily, June 14).