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Beginning in June 1979, RS Systems supplied the U.S. Army with its very simple and low-cost FQM-117A RCMAT (Radio-Controlled Miniature Aerial Target) for surface-to-air defense training. More than 100,000 FQM-117 targets of all versions (which consisted in scale representations of Russian aircraft) were delivered to the U.S. Army, but in the role of low-cost aerial target model aircraft they have now been replaced by the much more versatile and realistic RPVTs (Remotely Piloted Vehicle Target), a program launched in 1983 (the last RCMAT types being phased out as late as FY 1999).

RPVTs are essentially radio-controlled, sub-scale aerial targets, and are a means by which the Army and the other military services provide training to short range air defense units in countering airborne threats at a reasonable cost; specifically, RPVTs permit live fire engagements by forces equipped with various missile and gun weapons systems.

In 1988 the U.S. Army Missile Command (AMCOM) assigned the designation MQM-143A Remotely Piloted Vehicle Target (RPVT) to a 1/5th scale representation of the MiG-27 produced by Continental RPV. This seems to be no longer in use, but the U.S. Army is currently using 1/5th scale models of the Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot and the Mil Mi-24 Hind-D helicopter, which probably received MQM-143B and C designators (although there is no evidence of this).

The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command issued an RFP for the acquisition of an aerial remotely piloted vehicle target system and services. The RFP, issued on October 31, 2002, contemplated the award of a fixed-price contract (with some cost reimbursement items) for a base year with four 1-year options. The solicitation required, as part of the past performance evaluation factor, offerors to submit information for contracts received or performed during the past three years which are the “same or similar” to the effort required by the RFP. In addition to the design and production of an estimated 400 RPVTs annually, the solicitation also required the successful offeror to provide operational support services (e.g., flight operations, maintenance services, equipment security) and engineering services for the RPVT system.

The solicitation required that each offeror’s proposed RPVT include an IR enhancing device for use in both the tracking and live fire of heat-seeking weapon systems such as the Stinger missile system. The RFP required that an offeror’s IR payload generate a minimum energy intensity of 15 watts per steradian while the aircraft was in flight at 100 miles per hour minimum. The RFP also stated the agency’s desire that the minimum energy intensity be visible as close to 360 degrees around the aircraft as possible.

Continental and Griffon Aerospace, Inc. were among the offerors that submitted timely proposals. The Army rated both Griffon and Continental as “low risk” under the past performance factor. After the contracting officer determined that Griffon’s proposal was most advantageous to the government, Continental protested various issues, including the reasonableness of the Army’s evaluation of Griffon’s past performance.

The contracting officer determined that Griffon’s superiority under the technical, operational, and management factors, combined with its low risk past performance assessment (equal to that of Continental), outweighed the price difference and made Griffon’s proposal most advantageous to the government. Based on this determination, the agency made award to Griffon.

After a sustained protest, the Army made a revised best value determination and affirmed the earlier award to Griffon Aerospace, Inc. GAO found that the new price/technical tradeoff was reasonable in light of the benefits of the awardee’s airframe design and power plant, which allowed for future growth. Because the agency made its revised source selection after receiving the GAO decision in the earlier case, and not before, the revised source selection was not made in the “heat of the adversarial process” and the GAO refused to discount the selection merely because there was an “expeditious implementation” of the GAO’s recommendations or that the decisions followed “closely on the heels of our decision in the prior protest.”

The contracting officer discussed the specific benefits associated with the numerous strengths and enhancements of Griffon’s proposal, which justified the award notwithstanding its higher price. As they relate to the subject protest, these benefits were associated with the following four aspects of Griffon’s proposal: (1) Griffon’s airframe design and power plant; (2) its infared (IR) source; (3) its proposed use of “standard composite materials” for construction; and (4) Griffon’s use of a [deleted] for beyond visual range ground control of the RPVTs.

In discussing the advantages associated with Griffon’s airframe design and power plant, the contracting officer stated that Griffon’s design was “robust,” and that Griffon “verified its key performance parameters” for its airframe design and power plant through test flights and substantiated the performance characteristics of its design with detailed information and performance data. The contracting officer added that Griffon’s airframe design and power plant provided “the flexibility for low risk growth in speed, payload, and endurance potential without modifying the existing airframe” and that Griffon’s “airframe design provides the ability to change airframe components easily in response to any future growth requirements.”

As part of the initial source selection decision, the agency had stated that Continental provided a “few minor performance enhancements” for its airframe as well, “which could benefit the Government, by providing flexibility to add new requirements without having to design another airframe.” However, the agency concluded that Continental’s strengths in this regard were offset by several weaknesses, including Continental’s failure to provide adequate information regarding “the basic airframe” and information pertaining to the performance of the airframe.

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