Air Force, Air Tractor Move Past Light-Attack Bid Protest

Air Tractor, which offered the AT-802 in an earlier phase of the Air Force's light-attack experiment, filed a bid protest earlier this summer. Air Tractor illustration.

This story was updated on Aug. 13, 2019, at 12:59 p.m. EST.

The Government Accountability Office recently dismissed a short-lived bid protest filed by Air Tractor regarding the Air Force’s effort to vet and buy light-attack planes.

“Air Tractor Inc. protested the Air Force solicitation notice of contracting action, and the protest was dismissed after the Air Force elected to take corrective action,” service spokesman Capt. Jake Bailey said Aug. 12.

Air Tractor protested to GAO on June 6, according to the watchdog’s website. The protest was dismissed June 28, before the Air Force’s 30-day deadline to respond. The Air Force declined to provide more details about the nature of the protest. Air Tractor declined to comment.

Air Tractor pitched a variant of its AT-802 armed crop duster with L3 Technologies for the light-attack experiment in 2017. Sierra Nevada Corp. and Embraer’s A-29 and Textron Aviation’s AT-6 are the only aircraft still standing after two rounds of experimentation.

In May, the Air Force said the A-29 is the only aircraft that can meet the requirements without “causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.” The service planned to issue a formal solicitation in June and award a contract by the end of September.

“[Light-attack aircraft] will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to support Air Force Special Operations Command with the ability to accomplish its mission of combat air advisory support to partner nations,” the service said in a May 10 notice of contract action. “[AFSOC] will also use the aircraft to participate in ongoing light-attack aircraft experimentation efforts.”

The Air Force also told reporters it intended to buy the AT-6, but never posted a contract notice.

As of May 8, the Air Force planned to buy three AT-6s through other transaction authority, meaning the service does not have to release a public procurement notice, Textron spokeswoman Sylvia Pierson told Air Force Magazine on Aug. 13. The service did not provide an overall update on the program by press time Aug. 12.

“Textron Aviation Defense maintains open lines of communications with USAF officials regarding future acquisition decisions, activities, and timelines,” Pierson said.