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Afghan Air Force Poised to Receive First Batch of A-29 Aircraft

The Afghan air force is finally set to receive its first batch of A-29 Super Tucano light-attack aircraft.

As my colleague Richard Sisk reported at Military.com, eight of the turboprop planes are expected to begin arriving in the country next year, possibly as early as January, to replace the Russian-made Mi-35 Hind helicopter gunships used by the force for close air support missions.

The Air Force's revised request for proposals called for delivering the first 10 aircraft at a rate of two a month to the Shindand Air Base in Herat province in the western part of Afghanistan, and the second 10 at the same rate to Kandahar Air Base in the southern part of the country.

Wherever the first lot of aircraft end up, the delivery has been a long time coming. The potentially $1 billion Air Force program to supply as many as 40 of the single-engine aircraft to the Afghan military, along with associated training services, has been delayed by missteps, legal challenges and even missing Afghans.

The U.S. Air Force first issued a solicitation for the production-ready light-air-support aircraft back in October 2010. Beechcraft Corp. and Sierra Nevada Corp., which teamed with Embraer S.A., were the only two firms to submit proposals for the award.

Beechcraft offered up a new design based on its T-6 family of trainers, which have been used by the Air Force for more than a dozen years. Sierra Nevada, meanwhile, proposed the previously developed A-29, also known as the Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, which has been used by the Brazilian air force and a growing number of other air forces since 2003.

In 2011, the Air Force informed Beechcraft in writing that its proposal was "technically unacceptable," but reportedly sent the memorandum to the wrong address. The company challenged its exclusion and subsequent award to Sierra Nevada.

In 2012, the service acknowledged it may have given preferential treatment to Sierra Nevada-Embraer and terminated the $428 million contract for 20 A-29, with an option for another 20 aircraft. Now it was Sierra Nevada's chance to complain, but the challenge was overruled and the Air Force was allowed to restart the competition.

In 2013, the service again awarded the contract to Sierra Nevada and again Beechcraft challenged the decision. But the Government Accountability Office overruled the protest.

In October of this year, the Air Force awarded Sierra Nevada with another contract, valued at $172.5 million, for six more A-29 aircraft, along with associated support and equipment, including spares and engineering technical services.

But while the contract appears back on track, other parts of the program remain troubled.

As Sisk reported, two Afghan maintenance personnel in the pilot training program at Moody Air Force Base near Valdosta, Georgia -- Mirwais Kohistani and Shirzad Rohullah -- went missing on Dec. 8 just before they were to graduate and haven't yet turned up.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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