The United States Air Force awards contract bid to a company based in the United Kingdom over an American company with proven products made in the USA.
Marketing Department at Life Support International
Less than a week after Donald Trump’s Inauguration as President, The United States Air Force announced that a UK-based manufacturer (Specmat Technologies/HR Smith) was awarded a contract to manufacture Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) for US military pilots and aircrew.
PLBs are handheld devices used in ejection seat survival kits or parachute packs, and can make the difference in the ultimate survival and rescue of a downed aviator. The bidding process started in 2014 after the PLBs the USAF were using (made by Israeli manufacturer Tadiran-Spectralink and their US partner SEI) were experiencing failures in the field. The military branch opened the door to all companies who wanted to participate in making the replacement.
In President Trump’s inaugural address, he stated, “We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.” One company who pitched their version of the beacons was ACR Electronics, Inc. (based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for 60 years), yet HR Smith won the contract. Under a President who ran on a platform of creating American jobs and rebuilding American industry, it is concerning that the USAF would pick an international vendor to supply the PLBs. This contract would have helped the US company and its US partners grow physically and financially, but now, there are jobs at stake. If a government institution, like the US military, chooses international alternatives over American made products, what kind of precedent does this set for other corporations? Besides the irony of this happening days after a man who promised to “Make America Great Again,” was sworn into the most powerful office in the world, it is also disconcerting when it comes to the quality of the PLB they chose.
During the USAF evaluation process, the PLB from the UK received both low and moderate risk ratings and had a lower reliability rating overall. Meanwhile, the PLB made by ACR received all low risk ratings and had a higher reliability rating. The ACR SLB-2000 has an established performance record in the industry; it is in use with numerous international air forces, in a variety of ejection seat and aircraft applications, including the F-15 and F-16 fighters and the T-6 Texan trainer – all mainstays of the USAF aircraft inventory. The UK competitor’s beacon chosen by the USAF is new and unproven. When the specifications of the two PLBs are put side by side, it’s difficult to tell why the UK manufacturer was selected. In a letter written to ACR, the Department of Air Force stated that, “[the] Award was made to the proposal with the lowest Value Adjusted Total Evaluated Price from among those with Acceptable Past Performance…” This quote means that even though the ACR PLB was substantially better, they went with the cheaper option that was “good enough.” When PLBs are used, it is a life or death situation and necessary that they work. It is disturbing that instead of choosing the best possible product to be used when US military personnel lives are on the line, the USAF bought the “second best” option. After the past failure of a previous foreign made PLB used by the Air Force, it is upsetting that the best proven alternative, though more expensive, would not be used. This decision could leave our US aviators in dangerous situations without the option of being rescued. After witnessing all of this, it makes one wonder if it is more important to the Air Force to save money over lives? ♦