The Brazilian president’s visit to Washington has refocused attention on the controversy over an Air Force decision to cancel the contract for the Light Air Support aircraft—a turboprop attack plane for Afghan forces—to be built jointly by Nevada-based Sierra Nevada and Brazil’s Embraer. Left out of this attention is what this story tells us about the current defense builddown.
The Light Air Support fleet was initially planned to include 20 planes for the Afghans, which the Air Force would complement with another 100 for itself to be used to train partners--like the Afghans--around the world. The Air Force’s version would be called the Light Attack and Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR) aircraft. Just a couple of years ago, the Air Force was profiling how this combination would improve the Air Force’s counterinsurgency and partnership capacity.
But then the Air Force dropped the LAAR program from 100 to only 15 aircraft, a plan funded in FY12. And this year, it cancelled its organic program altogether (page 158):
The LAAR program is terminated. Light attack air advisors will train in theater using methods similar to those already proven in other light aircraft. The Air Force has the ability to improve the capabilities of Partner Nation Air Forces using the foundational programs without procuring a niche aircraft to accomplish the training.
“Niche” is the key word. The services are focusing their resources on what they think is most important as budgets tighten, and niche capabilities aren’t it. The Afghans' 20 aircraft are actually funded by OCO money in the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (p. 13), so no skin off the Air Force to fund it—and thus why there are inklings about the contract being relet. That’s the real story more than the supposed acquisition antics currently grabbing attention.