CH-53X (HLR) Program Moves Into SDD, Preliminary Design
Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, CT received an $8.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for preliminary design work in support of HLR, as part of the initial system development and demonstration of the Marine Corps’ CH-53X Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program. The contract follows a Dec. 22, 2005 decision by the under secretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to authorize the $4.4 billion Heavy Lift Replacement program to begin development. A “Cost Plus Award Fee” contract for the System Development and Demonstration phase, estimated to be approximately $2.9 billion, is expected to be signed with Sikorsky in March 2006.
DID’s previous in-depth coverage of the HLR program also includes a follow-up report about HLR’s potential merger with the US Army’s futuristic JHL program, despite the timelines facing the USMC’s current CH-53E Super Stallion fleet and JHL’s technological uncertainties and late delivery date. A DefenseLINK story today adds some details about that, while providing relevant information concerning both the CH-53X (now designated CH-53K) and the current CH-53E fleet.
Technologies under consideration in the CH-53K, which is being developed as a new-build derivative of the CH-53E, will include a Joint Interoperable “glass” cockpit; high-efficiency rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low-maintenance elastomeric rotorhead; upgraded engines; a cargo rail locking system; external cargo improvements; and survivability enhancements.
The DefenseLINK article notes that Marine Corps acquisition officials also weighed the option of participating with the US Army’s Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) program. While Congress could always step in to force the issue – and may still do so – the Marine Corps notes that this would be deeply unwise for a number of reasons:
“The Army’s proposed heavy lift requirement to transport the Future Combat System greatly exceeds our requirement,” said program manager, Col. Paul Croisetiere. “The actual aircraft hasn’t been designed yet, but initial analysis suggests the joint heavy lifter will be too large to operate from current and programmed amphibious shipping. We may have a use for it, but in more of a logistical role as a possible KC-130J [air tanker] replacement – we still need the CH-53K for tactical heavy lift.”
Joint Heavy Lifters may not be available any sooner than 2025, according to Croisetiere, which is more than 10 years after the Marine Corps will be forced to start retiring its current CH-53E fleet. Even if the Marines could use it, Croisetiere noted that as currently envisioned, JHL will be too big to operate from the Marines’ amphibious ships.
Hence the rationale for the CH-53K “Super Stallion v2.0” instead.
The CH-53K is being designed to carry a cargo load of 27,000 pounds (13.5 tons) 110 nautical miles, operating at an altitude of 3,000 feet and an ambient temperature of 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Those qualifications matter, because “hot and high” conditions can decrease aircraft load carrying capabilities and combat radius – especially helicopters. This reduced performance has recently been an issue during operations in Afghanistan and relief efforts in Pakistan, for instance, and with earlier models of the C-130 Hercules as well. As such, figures for the CH-53K at sea level and/or in cooler temperatures would be considerably higher.
Work on the preliminary design contract will be performed in Stratford, CT and is expected to be complete in January 2008. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-06-C-0081).
The first CH-53K, a flight test aircraft, is scheduled to make its first flight in FY 2011. Initial operating capability, or IOC, is scheduled in FY 2015 and is defined as a detachment of four aircraft, with combat ready crews, logistically prepared to deploy.