Defense Department considers bid from Brazilian aircraft manufacturer with bylaws giving the Brazilian government control over whether it will supply parts — what could go wrong?

by CynthiaYockey on July 15, 2011

The U.S. Air Force is in the market for an aircraft that can be used for light attack and armed reconnaissance (LAAR) missions. It also will be used to provide training to foreign military allies so they can provide their own defense. Very soon the Department of Defense will decide whether to award the contract to Hawker-Beechcraft, an American company with a manufacturing plant in Wichita, Kansas, or to Embraer, a Brazilian company, which has rented a hangar in Florida. The two competing models of airplane are Hawker-Beechcraft’s AT-6 and Embraer’s A-29 Super Tucano. This video compares their respective facilities:

Summary of the video: If DoD awards Hawker-Beechcraft the contract, it will create or sustain 1,400 jobs in the U.S. at a company that has an established manufacturing plant and will create orders for suppliers in 18 states. If Embraer wins the contract, it will employ 50 people in the U.S. who will assemble their aircraft in a rented hangar, which, call me crazy, is a proposal that has “we’re just not that into you” written all over it.

Whenever I think of all the manufacturing jobs being driven out of the U.S. by taxes, regulations and “watermelon” environmentalism (green on the outside, socialist red on the inside — i.e., environmentalism as a mask for ways to destroy free enterprise, aka capitalism), I think of the scene at the beginning of “Gone with the Wind” at the picnic after everyone learns the Yankees South Carolinians have fired on Fort Sumter and war is imminent. Rhett Butler watches the men boast of how quickly they will defeat the Yankees and when one notes that Butler has visited the North and asks his opinion, Butler replies as follows (boldfacing mine):

RHETT BUTLER : I think it’s hard winning a war with words, gentlemen.

CHARLES: What do you mean, sir?

RHETT: I mean, Mr. Hamilton, there’s not a cannon factory in the whole South.

MAN: What difference does that make, sir, to a gentleman?

RHETT: I’m afraid it’s going to make a great deal of difference to a great many gentlemen, sir.

CHARLES: Are you hinting, Mr. Butler, that the Yankees can lick us?

RHETT: No, I’m not hinting. I’m saying very plainly that the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines … and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves and … arrogance.

If ever there were an industry in which we MUST buy American, it has to be the defense industry. Each nation looks after its own self-interest. Putting American defense in the hands of another nation at the very least gives it enormous leverage in bargaining with the U.S. for anything it wants and at the worst gives it the power to refuse to deliver when it doesn’t get its way. Embraer is not only subsidized by the Brazilian government, the Brazilian government owns 40 percent of it and has the following powers over Embraer’s policies according to a May 2011 report from the Hudson Institute (boldfacing mine):

  • Creation and/or alteration of military programs, whether or not involving the Federative Republic of Brazil
  • Development of third parties´ skills in technology for military programs
  • Interruption of the supply of maintenance and replacement parts for military aircraft
  • Transfer of the equity control of the company.

What else could go wrong? Also according to the Hudson Institute report, Brazil has considerable anti-American sentiment and its major exports compete directly with American exports. The ability to cut off the supply of parts and maintenance for an American military aircraft would give Brazil considerable leverage in future trade agreements.

Then there’s the detail that Embraer’s Super Tucano cannot be piloted by approximately 18 percent of military males and 81 percent of military females because it is built to standards that do not allow them to eject safely. However, the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 would allow for warfighters with weights as low as 103 pounds and as high as 245 pounds to fly the aircraft safely — which amounts to approximately 95% of the combined male and female potential pilot population. See Jenn Q. Public for the stories of four female Afghan pilots who would be grounded due to their size if the Super Tucano were chosen over the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6.



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I R A Darth Aggie July 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm

everyone learns the South Carlinians have fired on Fort Sumter

FIFY. You’re welcome.

Cynthia Yockey July 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Done. Thank you!

Liz July 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm

The first thing I thought when I read this:

“Then there’s the detail that Embraer’s Super Tucano cannot be piloted by approximately 18 percent of military males and 81 percent of military females because it is built to standards that do not allow them to eject safely.”

was “that’s a feature, not a bug”. I strongly suspect that it’s how Obama is selling this to at least some of the military brass. They get on board with this, and manage to get rid of female pilots, who some resent and most fear they’ll have to let into direct combat roles. Obama just doesn’t like any women at all, ever.

This way they avoid any lawsuits from women because hey, they’re not being discriminated against, they’re just physically unable to do the work. I don’t actually support putting women in direct combat roles, but this is ridiculous. If they’re physically able for the work, then why kick them out just because Obama seems to think the Brazilians have no national interest of their own? 

Liz July 17, 2011 at 7:21 pm

I just spoke to my plane nerd father, who called me up “shitting razorblades” (Mom’s words) over this. He has some insights:

(1) Embraer is what airplane aficionados would term a second tier company. No one would dispute their technical ability, but they simply do not have the capability for large, or even medium, contracts. This makes me think that Obama is paving the way for massive defense cuts.

(2) It sounds like they’re massively underspecifying the ejector seats. He thinks the planes being made could support a better seat, but smaller pilots require far more explosive to get them airborne, and the cost builds up. Rather get the cheaper (by about $2 million) seat now, then save more on explosives. Again, more military cuts.

(3) For some reason, Obama is trying to undercut the native contractors. WTH? 

My mother, a lifelong legacy Democrat who’s now an independent, has something else:

(4) Gosh, for all the whining that the left does about manufacturing being outsourced, they really go out of their way to make sure it never returns, don’t they? I wonder if they’d even consider the Brazilian plan if the American plan was in a blue, union state. Hey, maybe the plan is to force the factory into, like, Washington?

Liz July 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm

My father just called me back, as my pilot sister told him that Hawker-Beechcraft is the American company in question, and he finally thinks he gets it.

H-B is an old, venerable name in aviation. But it’s entirely owned by Raytheon. The US govt and armed forces have long been convinced that Raytheon is getting way too big for its boots. (With good reason.)

This is actually a win-win situation. If they go with the Brazilians, they get cheaper planes – and I strongly suspect they’re not cut up about the under specifications.

If they go with the Americans, then Raytheon will have to make massive concessions. The baseline on which all deals will be decided will be the Brazilian one, not the huge prices and unnecessary add-ons that Raytheon favor. They might be forced into a union state.

Also, because this is win-win for the Democrats, they can sit back and let their opponents expend enormous amounts of energy.

Uh, apologies for the long comments. I come from an immediate family with three plan nerds, who find this fascinating and want to educate me.

Cynthia Yockey July 17, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I always appreciate your comments. You are making valuable and informed contributions and I’m glad you took the time. Only a handful of bloggers have picked this up, so if people researching this topic find this blog, they will see you are making points no one else has. Thank you.

Two thoughts have occurred to me since writing this. First, I expect that easily 30 of the 50 jobs that Embraer would create would be filled by Brazilians on work visas transferred in from headquarters.

Second, why does America only have one manufacturer capable of submitting a bid on this airplane? For our defense industry and economy to be robust, it seems like we should have at least three companies with this capability.

Liz July 18, 2011 at 5:09 pm

“Second, why does America only have one manufacturer capable of submitting a bid on this airplane?”

When the armed forces have a contract, they put it out to major tender. Any company that wants the contract has to compete for it. Sometimes, one company is picked. Sometimes, it’s two finalists, which is generally taken as a sign for both sides to come back with lower prices.

This is not natural competition. It’s a dogfight between a Brazilian company and an American company the government wants to put manners on only because the US government has made it so. There are indeed many manufacturers capable of making these planes, and most of them submitted bids.

Liz July 18, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Also, the aviation nerds have had a pow wow, and seem to agree that, if someone put a gun to their heads and forced them to choose between the two, they’d go for the Super Tucano.

(1) The pilot in the back seat (the instructor) is in an elevated position, allowing them to see clearly. This is vital for instructting new pilots, especially in their first 100 hours.

(2) The AT-6 seems to be based on very old, almost 1950s, engineering principles. It looks like it would require incredible maintenance and that it doesn’t have the same innovations as the Umbraer.

That doesn’t answer the question of why it became a choice between those two in the first place, of course. I still maintain this is political.

Peter W. Davis July 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm

 I’ve never been a plane nerd, I was once a guy in a Rifle Company, highly dependent on air cover. The best plane ever, in my day was the Douglas Skyraider. It carried a bigger payload than any of the fighter-bomber jets while it was slow enough that the pilots could see us and the bad guys. Naturally  the big brains in our military pushed them off on the Viet Namese.

 Today the best ground support aircraft is probably the Warthog, although we’d probably do just as well with those old Skyraiders. I wonder what a Skyraider made with modern tech would be like. Say an engine with fuel injection instead of carbs and Kevlar armor, modern avionics.  I’d reckon we could build five or ten of those for the price of one F-16. 

 The problem is that none of the people deciding what planes we get are Infantrymen. Instead they’re zoomies. They don’t really give a damn about ground support, they care about shooting down other zoomies.

Cynthia Yockey July 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I didn’t write much about the airplanes themselves, but they have propeller engines because flying more slowly allows them to do reconnaissance more effectively and provide better ground support than jets can.

Werner Merkwürdigliebe July 19, 2011 at 2:55 am

Super Tucano airplanes have been proven useful in guerilla warfare, but I don’t know if buying them will work out for the USA. Seems… unnatural, and if you link this with the final mission of the space shuttle program, you start to wonder if there’s a pattern there…

Cynthia Yockey July 18, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Yes, the AT-6 is 85 percent an older plane that is used as a trainer. It’s a pity that the pilots and mechanics who have to make these things fly aren’t the ones who have the final word in the selection.

Also–girlfriend! You brought your “A” game to THIS discussion! I’m so grateful! Thank you!

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