The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has advised the U.S. Air Force to reimburse the Brussels-based Societe Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aeronautique SA (SABCA) “the costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees, associated with filing and pursuing both its initial protest, as well as its supplemental protest” of last December’s award of a contract worth up to $365 million to Illinois-based AAR Corp. for the maintenance of 80 European-based F-16 fighters by Lockheed Martin [LMT].

Last December’s award displaced SABCA, the incumbent F-16 maintainer since 2001 (Defense Daily, Dec. 16, 2021). SABCA’s history with the F-16 dates back to 1977 when SABCA began final assembly of European F-16s in Gosselles, Belgium.

The Air Force awarded SABCA a continuation F-16 maintenance contract on Feb. 27 last year–a contract worth up to $250 million over 10 years to extend the European F-16 service life from 8,000 to 12,000 flight hours. But the award was challenged, and the GAO advised the Air Force to re-open the competition, which AAR then won.

The new GAO decision advising the Air Force to reimburse SABCA for its protest costs said that the Air Force, before awarding last December’s “best value” contract to AAR, had “satisfactory confidence” in AAR’s past performance in that company’s $299 million bid, while the Air Force had “substantial confidence” in SABCA’s past performance in that company’s $377 million bid.

“On December 22, [2021] SABCA filed a protest of the award with our office in which it argued, among other things, that the agency failed to properly determine whether AAR’s pricing was balanced,” GAO said.

On Feb. 7 this year, SABCA filed a supplemental GAO protest that argued that the Air Force’s Total Evaluated Price (TEP) calculations for awarding the contract to AAR in December last year were flawed, as the TEPs did not include all contract line item numbers (CLINs). A week after SABCA lodged its supplemental protest, the Air Force acknowledged that “there were errors in the pricing spreadsheet used to calculate the offerors’ [TEPs]” and that the service would recalculate the offerors’ TEPs after correcting the pricing spreadsheet and make a new award selection, GAO said.

After the Air Force awarded the contract to AAR last December, the company said that it planned to provide F-16 depot-level maintenance and repair for F-16s assigned to United States Air Forces Europe and to send Contractor Field Teams to other areas to perform depot-level repairs as needed, including avionics work; Service Life Extension Program modifications; drop-in maintenance, and full strip, paint, and corrosion control on F-16s in Europe.

AAR has four former DoD, military, and industry officials on its board of directors–former Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord; retired U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb, and Robert Leduc, the former president of Pratt & Whitney [RTX].