The US Navy awarded
Sikorsky two contracts with a combined worth of $28.8 for production aircraft and non-recurring work to support low rate initial production of the CH-53K. One non-recurring contract is worth $21.7 million and the other $7.1 million. Each contract brings the CH-53 King Stallion closer to production. Developed for the US Marine Corps, the King Stallion is the only sea-based, long-range, heavy-lift helicopter. It can carry up to 27,000 lbs (12,200 kg) over 110 natural miles (204 km), more than tripling the load of Sikorsky’s CH-53E helicopter. Sikorsky promotes the CH-53K
for expeditionary heavy-lift transport of armored vehicles, equipment, and personnel to support distributed operations inland from a sea-based center of operations, as well as support for special operations forces, humanitarian missions and combat search-and-rescue. The delivery order worth 21.7 million includes a data transfer unit and a defensive electronic countermeasure system replacement program to replace existing subsystems within the CH-53K production aircraft. Tasks include investigation, systems engineering support, risk analysis, integration development, weight impact and publication updates. Work on the contract is expected to be completed in January 2021. The other contract supports low-rate initial production of the CH-53K, including non-recurring engineering, development, tooling, manufacturing, qualification, reporting and delivery of the nose, main, intermediate and tail gearbox gears. Work will take place in Stratford, Connecticut, and is expected to be completed in October 2020.
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.