Correction: This story has been corrected to show Leonardo has sold 82 of the C-27J Spartans to 14 worldwide operators. It has also been corrected to identify Antonov as a Ukraine-based company.

ANKARA, Turkey — Italian Leonardo’s C-27J Spartan airlifter will soon face off against the Airbus’ C295 in a sizable Turkish contract, with Ukraine-based company Antonov potentially joining the race.

“We wish to see as large a competition as possible. We are certain about the European contenders joining the bidding,” a Turkish procurement official said of the program for the purchase of an initial batch of nine transport aircraft for the Turkish military.

Another Turkish official confirmed there would be follow-on orders.

Industry sources estimate the initial contract to be worth nearly $500 million. “With the follow-on orders, the program may double in size,” one source said.

The deadline for questions, answers and clarifications between the bidders and Turkey’s procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, or SSM, is Nov. 29. The contenders will submit their bids to the Turkish government by Dec. 29.

Leonardo officials who briefed a group of Turkish journalists at the 46th Air Brigade in Pisa, Italy, say the program is very important for their company.

“This can be direct acquisition by the Turkish government, but we are open to any discussions on potential future co-production and other cooperation options,” said Eduardo Munhos de Campos, head of international sales at Leonardo’s aviation department.

Leonardo has been in talks regarding the program with potential Turkish partners including military electronics concern Aselsan, Turkey’s largest defense firm; military software company Havelsan; and Turkish Aerospace Industries. All three companies are state-controlled.

Leonardo officials say missile systems produced by another state-run Turkish company, missile-maker Roketsan, could be integrated into the C-27J Spartan.

SSM insists on maximum use of local subsystems and requires supportability (parts production) guarantees for 30 years. A delivery timetable will form following negotiations between SSM and the selected contender. Another Turkish requirement is that the selected transport aircraft come with a defensive capability against hostile attack.

Leonardo is a 30 percent state-owned Italian company with €12 billion (U.S. $14 billion) worth of posted sales in 2016 and it employs 45,000 personnel. Its international programs include the Eurofighter, Tornado and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Turkey, too, is a partner in the U.S.-led, multinational Joint Strike Fighter Program.

Leonardo has so far sold 82 C-27J Spartans to 14 operators worldwide. Of those, 78 have been delivered.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Coast Guard deployed C-27J Spartans to assist in relief following hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Two C-27Js were deployed in response to Harvey from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4. During this time, the aircraft flew less than 50 hours and completed 31 sorties, transporting approximately 210 people and 75,000 pounds of cargo.

“Throughout hurricane response operations, the C-27J proved to be well-suited for rapid movement of small- to moderate-size loads of personnel, equipment and supplies over relatively short distances,” said Capt. Eric Storch, the HC-27J Asset Project Office commanding officer. “The availability and reliability of the deployed C-27J aircraft provided planners with an alternative to dedicating the larger C-130 aircraft that, if used, would have flown with a partially empty cargo compartment.”

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