Air Tractor Illustrates How Hard It Is For Innovative Products To Break Through In Defense

by: Matthew Potter
May 26, 2010

Category: afghanistan, Business Line, Companies, Countries, Department of Defense, Events, Federal Budget Process, logistics, Military Aviation, production program, Services | RSS 2.0

Air Tractor, Inc of Texas is a leading manufacturer of agricultural aircraft. They primarily make crop dusters as well as firefighting aircraft. Their products are small, robust and relatively inexpensive to purchase and operate. The company would like to try and make military aircraft as well targeting an upcoming competition for tactical aircraft to be bought by the Afghan Army Air Corps. The problem they face is the list of requirements being circulated by the U.S. military for this contract include things like ejection seats and retractable landing gear. These are items that are not currently included on their aircraft for obvious reasons.

Air Tractor has provided aircraft to the U.S. State Department for use fighting drug production in South America. They were armored due to the potential threats and have survived small arms fire. This illustrates the survivability of the basic airframe.

To aid the company indirectly their local Congressman, Representative Mac Thornberry (R-TX), has sponsored an amendment to the 2011 Defense Authorization Act to require reports from the Air Force on the requirement justification prior to contract release and award.

The issue with too strict requirements has always been an issue with DoD contracts. They can limit competition and stifle innovation at a time when the U.S. needs to be more efficient with their defense dollars. In the past there have been many successful systems that looked unconventional and if Thornberry’s amendment sparks some thinking about this it might aid not only the Afghan military but the U.S.’s as well.

Photo from Johnny Jupiter Photo’s flickr photostream.

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