The U.S. Air Force has ordered Sierra Nevada/Embraer to stop work on the Light Air Support (LAS) contract, worth up to $950 million, that the team won Feb. 27.

However, the hold may only be temporary, says Lt. Gen. C.R. Davis, the principal deputy for Air Force acquisition. He spoke to reporters March 12 during a break in the Credit Suisse/McAleese Defense Programs conference in Washington.

Davis says the stop-work order was issued as standard procedure once the service was informed of losing bidder Beechcraft’s decision to protest. The company announced it would protest the Air Force award March 8.

A service can opt to continue work if it demonstrates that doing so is in the national interest. The Air Force is reviewing whether it is justified in invoking this privilege.

The first of 20 LAS aircraft are expected for delivery to Afghanistan forces early next year; the program is considered critical to allowing the U.S. Air Force to begin pulling its own combat aircraft out of the country in 2014.

The order for the 20 aircraft and training is expected to cost no more than $427 million. But the contract allows for orders from other allies.

Sierra Nevada/Lockheed Martin won with the A-29 Super Tucano-based design, while Beechcraft lost with its AT-6 proposal. It was the second iteration of the competition — Sierra Nevada also won the earlier round, but after Beechcraft protested the award was overturned and recompeted.