Israel has chosen the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion over Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook as a replacement for its aging CH-53D “Yas’ur” heavy-lift helicopter, the country’s Defense Ministry announced Feb. 25.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz selected the single-main-rotor 53K over the tandem rotor Chinook based on recommendations from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi and Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel.
“It is essential to the IDF’s ability to carry out a wide range of operational activities,” Gantz said in a prepared statement posted to social media. “The new helicopter is adapted to the [Israeli Air Force’s] operational requirements and to the challenges of the changing battlefield.”
Israel becomes the first nation to buy the 53K outside the U.S., where the 53K is being developed for the Marine Corps. Sikorsky, which is owned by Lockheed Martin, also made the IDF’s legacy CH-53 “Yas’ur,” Israeli for petrel. That helicopter, which entered service in 1969, also beat out the Chinook based on requirements Israel established after the Six Day War for a heavy-lift helicopter.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) said the 53K was chosen after “extensive administrative work, during which IAF personnel examined various flight platforms and evaluated aspects such as technology, engineering, maintenance, and more.”
“The decision to purchase new heavy-lift helicopters for the IAF is a significant step in improving the IDF’s force build-up,” Gantz was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post, following the announcement on Thursday.
The deal likely will be done through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, but no official approvals have been made by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees such arms sales.
“We are confident that Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K helicopter is the safest, most capable, most reliable and most efficient solution to meet the needs of the Israeli Air Force (IAF),” a Lockheed spokesperson told Vertical in an email. “As we continue our long-standing partnership with Israel, we remain committed to supporting the IAF and providing them with the premier heavy-lift helicopter for their critical missions, which will help strengthen Israel’s national security for decades to come.”
Both the Chinook and King Stallion were on offer for the German military’s “Schwerer Transporthubschrauber” (STH) program to replace that country’s CH-53G until Germany canceled the program because the bids were too expensive, according to reports. Germany had planned to award a contract for the work in late 2020 and eventually buy between 40 and 60 helicopters beginning in 2023, but has now asked Sikorsky and Boeing to rebid.
Sikorsky continues to develop and deliver 53Ks, which are scheduled to enter initial operational testing this year. Naval Air Systems Command, which handles aircraft purchasing for the Marine Corps, signed a $550 million deal for six more 53Ks on Oct. 26, putting Sikorsky on contract for four lots of aircraft totaling 24 King Stallions, which will replace the Marine Corps’ CH-53E as the primary heavy-lift utility helicopter and ship-to-shore troop transport.
Marines at Air Station New River in North Carolina on Jan. 15 performed the first “fleet flight,” marking the first time the helicopter was flown “after being solely maintained and brought to readiness by Marines prior to flight,” according to Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).