Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky has been awarded
a Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 1 contract to deliver
two CH-53K King Stallion
heavy-lift helicopters to the US Marine Corps (USMC). Valued at $304 million, the firm will deliver the models by 2021 in addition to spares and support, with work to be carried out in Stratford, Connecticut. The US Department of Defense's Program of Record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft, with the USMC intending to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements. Designed to lift three times as much weight as its predecessor, the CH-53E Super Stallion, its increased payload capacity can internally load 463L cargo pallets, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) or a European Fenneck armored personnel carrier while still leaving the troop seats installed.
The U.S. Marines have a problem. They rely on their CH-53E Super Stallion medium-heavy lift helicopters to move troops, vehicles, and supplies off of their ships. But the helicopters are wearing out. Fast. The pace demanded by the Global War on Terror is relentless, and usage rates are 3 times normal. Attrition is taking its toll. Over the past few years, CH-53s have been recalled from “boneyard” storage at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, in order to maintain fleet numbers in the face of recent losses and forced retirements. Now, there are no flyable spares left.
Enter the Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, now known as the CH-53K. It aims to offer notable performance improvements over the CH-53E, in a similar airframe. The question is whether its service entry delay to 2018-2019 will come too late to offset a serious decline in Marine aviation.