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Afghan Aircraft Competition Almost Complete, U.S. Says

The U.S. Air Force is approaching a decision in a stalled competition to buy 20 light-attack aircraft for Afghanistan’s military, a service official said.

“I expect early next year a decision will be made,” by April 30 if not earlier, Air Force Lieutenant General Charles Davis, the service’s military deputy for acquisition, said today in an interview.

“They are not going to rush it, but they are to the point where they are closing in on the decision process,” Davis said of the Air Force evaluation team.

The contest pits Sierra Nevada Corp. and its Brazilian subcontractor, Embraer SA, against Hawker Beechcraft Corp. Brazilian officials have said they’re monitoring the case because the deal would mark a breakthrough for their nation’s biggest aircraft maker.

Hawker had protested the Air Force’s decision last December, which would have given Sierra Nevada an initial $355.1 million to provide a turboprop aircraft for the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps.

The Air Force canceled the contract in February and General Donald Hoffman, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command, started an investigation into its selection process.

The investigation uncovered shortcomings in the contract evaluation process and a revised request for proposals was issued.

Afghan Deliveries

The aircraft are expected to be delivered about a year after a contractor is selected, or in 2014, according to Davis. President Barack Obama has pledged to complete the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

“That’s an important date,” Davis said. “It’s kind of key we’re tracking to a schedule that aligns” with the drawdown.

Light-attack aircraft support the U.S. intention to leave the Afghan military with adequate “enabling” technologies to fight the Taliban, he said.

The initial contract calls for aircraft and ground training devices to support pilot training and support for all maintenance and supply requirements.

A deal with the Air Force would be a “door opener” for Embraer with the U.S. Department of Defense and in other countries, Embraer Chief Executive Officer Frederico Curado said in an interview in March.

“It would be a stamp of credibility abroad for us and a chance to develop a relationship with the” Pentagon, Curado said.

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