The US Army and US Air Force have selected the Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan in an open-ended Joint Cargo Aircraft acquisition that seeks to fill the tactical airlift void between cargo helicopters and the Lockheed Martin C-130J.
The size of the contract awarded to the team of L-3 Communications, Alenia North America and Boeing was put at $2.04 billion for the first 55 C-27Js, but the actual figure could be greatly expanded or constricted as each service refines its requirements.
The C-27J was selected over the Raytheon/EADS North America team offering EADS Casa's C-295 airlifter.
"This great aircraft has gone through a very strenuous competition and the merits of our proposal were recognised," says Bob Drewes, L-3 Communications Integrated Systems' president and chief operating officer.
The joint programme office has adopted the flexible contracting structure already used to buy various models of Sikorsky's UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter.
The number of aircraft purchased will be decided annually by exercising an option under an umbrella contract, with the Spartan to potentially emerge as a versatile "truck" for missions ranging from airlift to attack and surveillance.
Alenia Aeronautica chief executive Giovanni Bertolone predicts the acquisition could rise from a planned total of 145 aircraft to 207 over the next 20 years, with production and support activities to value up to $15 billion.
Most immediately, the C-27J is campaigning against the C-130J to win a contract for 115 aircraft to replace USAF MC-130E/P and HC-130N/P tankers for special operations and combat search-and-rescue tasks.
The victory also secures the C-27J's future as a hot commodity on the international sales market, with active interest from Australia to replace its de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribous, and Canada, which needs a new fleet of search-and-rescue aircraft.
Ottawa recently announced that its requirement has been put on hold for up to three years, but Alenia North America president and chief executive Giuseppe Giordo says: "I believe we can have this programme starting by fall. The need to have a fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft exists and is huge because the current fleet is getting very old."
Speaking late last week, EADS co-chief executive Tom Enders said the C-295's elimination from the JCA contest would drive the company to redouble its efforts to win the US Air Force's KC-X tanker recapitalisation effort, offering the KC-30 in partnership with Northrop Grumman. The team faces competition from Boeing's KC-767.