Contracting for Civilian Warplanes

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Army photo / Staff Sgt. Horace Murray

Many of the aircraft the U.S. is looking to hire to ferry Afghan troops around Afghanistan will be Russian-built, like this Mi-17 chopper.

Thumbing through Pentagon contracting documents can be mind-numbingly boring, although there’s far less chance of paper cuts these days since most documentation moved online. But the boilerplate requirements, specifications and contractual language remain stultifying.

“CENTCOM Joint Theatre Support Contracting Command (CJTSCC) has a requirement to provide flexible, reliable, safe commercial air movement for the Afghan National Security Forces for NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) / Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A),” a recent announcement notes. “A formal, written solicitation will not be issued.”

“Flexible, reliable, safe commercial air movement” and “Afghan National Security Forces” make for a strange pairing, especially giving all the shooting going on down below.

That’s why sometimes it makes more sense to skip all that procurement pablum and cut to the chase – the questions that the potential suppliers want answered before they’re willing to put the time and effort into bidding. This smattering of queries and observations should give you some insight into what’s on their minds:

— Page 39 Point 3.3.10 says that if the aircraft provided is unable to carry the required number of passengers…at the time of take-off due to previously known environmental conditions then the fixed rate price for that leg shall be reduced by the % of passengers not allowed on board. This is not reasonable since it is entirely possible, if not, in certain cases, probable that the aircraft types specified in this solicitation would not be able to carry the payloads specified due to certain combinations of altitude, temperature, availability of fuel (or lack thereof at certain destinations) and runway conditions. This would on occasions place the contractor in the position of being penalized for operating safely.

— Page 38 Point says for the contractor to refuse to fly a transport mission due to marginal weather conditions the weather must be such that the ceiling is below 700ft and visibility less than two nautical miles. Since most of the destinations listed have no published instrument approach procedure, and given that many of them are in mountainous terrain these specified limitation cannot be applied. For safety reasons the go/no go decision has to be in terms of the law, the operators manual of procedures and at all times be at the unfettered discretion of the captain.

— In order to ensure aircraft are fully capable of executing their tasked missions, there should be a criteria added to both ambient condition data points that specifies desired flight range plus fuel reserve. As they are written, neither ambient condition data point includes a criteria for aircraft range, and therefore you may find that the resulting aircraft may be able to lift the required load yet not have enough fuel to go anywhere.

— We understand there are two performance capability data points to be met: one low altitude data point (at Mean Sea Level) and one high altitude data point (at 7000 ft PA)…With regard to elevation, please note that there are no sea level locations anywhere in Afghanistan.

— Must contractor employ translators?

— Request clarification of the requirement that the [contractor] be able to communicate in English and Dari, both orally and in writing. This is a unique skill set combined with the aviation scheduling and program management abilities. Is this a firm requirement, or will a translator be sufficient? Why was this dialect selected and not also Pashto?

— How is the contractor to project the aircraft proposed is capable of having enough fuel, if the estimated range/hours per mission are not provided?

— Is the contractor responsible for force protection of passengers and cargo, or just contractor employees and assets? Is the contractor responsible, at all times and at all places, for force protection of contractor employees and assets? Does this contract provide for arming contractor employees?

— Transporting unescorted ANSF’s presents a significant security risk to contractor personnel and aircraft. Typical Afghanistan rotory wing contracts operated for the US Government require duel ship operations. With the increased security risk of this program duel ship operations will become even more necessary to ensure the safety of crew. Will the government please confirm all rotory wing missions will be tasked and conducted with tandem helicopters?

— Will the contractor be allowed to have their crews armed?

— Will foreign national passengers or passengers from the Afghan Army be allowed to have weapons of any kind on contractor provided flights?

— Will the Government provide any armed military personnel on board aircraft for contractor protection?

— Is it the contractor’s responsibility to provide War Risk insurance?

— Please confirm that ALL contractor personnel are required to obtain and maintain SECRET security clearances for this contract, or are only key personnel such as pilots, mission planners, operations staff/managers required to have SECRET clearances?

— Can you expand on your daily security briefings and address delays due to high threat levels?

— Will aircrews be allowed to carry weapons? It will be extremely difficult to hire and deploy pilots and crew that are not allowed to carry a sidearm.

— Will the DoD be providing casevac [casualty evacuation] and downed aircrew recovery?

— Requirement states, “Aircraft movement messages shall be transmitted in the clear.” Doesn’t this endanger operations?

— Operating in Afghanistan in a single engine non-pressurized aircraft is probably not a very wise move.

— After contacting several vendors that specialize in providing helicopter armor that complies with the…requirement, they have indicated that the total process for design and installation of armor may be a lengthy process. Possibly 90-200 days at best. This being the case, will the Government work with the contractor and not penalize the awarded contactor while they await armor from vendors if they order it upon task order award?

— Please verify that for HOGE [hover out of ground effect] performance proof we must account for the weight of the installed floor armor?

— Where is “home base”?

And you think your job is tough.