Wichita-based Cessna has beat several foreign competitors for a contract to supply dozens of "light lift" aircraft as the US Air Force (USAF) arms itself and certain partner countries for irregular warfare.

The USAF awarded an $88.5 million contract on 26 May for six Cessna T-128T and 26 Cessna 208B Caravans to be delivered the Afghanistan air force.

Cessna, a Textron subsidiary, beat rival offers from New Zealand-based Pacific Aerospace P-750, which was teamed with DynCorp, and the EADS North America CASA C-212.

The award is part of a two-year-old initiative launched by USAF chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz to equip both his own service and certain partner countries with aircraft suited to irregular warfare campaigns.

 Cessna Iraq 445
 Photo courtesy of US Air Force
After donating the 32 total aircraft to the Afghanistan air force, the light lift contract includes an option to deliver 15 more aircraft to McGuire AFB, New Jersey, to start training an air advisory corps within the USAF.

The contract also includes options for buying another 24 Caravans in two lots, which may be passed on to other countries which have partnered with the USAF in battles against insurgents and terrorists.

The light lift contract award comes as the air force continues to evaluate bids for a turboprop-powered light strike fighter.

A Hawker Beechcraft/Lockheed Martin team has offered the AT-6B against an Embraer/Sierra Nevada team proposing the A-26 Super Tucano. Embraer is based in Brazil, but intends to install a second final assembly plant in Jacksonville, Florida.

The USAF source selection process does not usually consider whether the aircraft is sourced from another country, but political supporters of the Hawker/Lockheed team has raised concerns about buying combat aircraft from Brazil.

Source: Flight International