U.S. Marines order six more CH-53K King Stallions

Avatar for Dan ParsonsBy Dan Parsons | October 28, 2020

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 36 seconds.

With a new half-billion-dollar contract awarded this week, Sikorsky brought the number of CH-53K King Stallions on order from the U.S. Marine Corps to two dozen. 

US Marines CH-53K with external load
CH-53K, K3, piloted by Rob Pupalaikis and Maj Foxton, flies an aerial refueling test with an external load on Sept. 28, 2020 from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. NAVAIR Photo

Naval Air Systems Command, which handles aircraft purchasing for the Marine Corps, signed the $550 million deal for six more 53Ks on Oct. 26. Under the contract, which also includes funding for programmatic and engineering support and rate tooling, Sikorsky will deliver the six aircraft in early 2024.

Sikorsky, which is owned by Lockheed Martin, is now on contract for four lots of aircraft totalling 24 CH-53K King Stallions, which will replace the Marine Corps’ CH-53E as the primary heavy lift utility helicopter and ship-to-shore troop transport. 

“This contract award is a testament to the government’s confidence in the CH-53K platform. This award shows that we are working hard to make the aircraft more affordable,” said Maj. Gen. Greg Masiello, head of the Marine Corps’ program executive office for air anti-submarine warfare, assault and special mission programs. “The capability and affordability of the CH-53K is important to ensure that we provide a valuable addition to the United States Marine Corps and our friends and allies.”

The program is moving toward completion of developmental testing, which culminates in Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) in 2021. To that end, the Marine Corps is in the process of accepting the first operational test aircraft configured for initial operational capability. Along with three other 53Ks scheduled for delivery in early 2021, that first operational King Stallion will be used for initial operators and completion of IOT&E.

“This contract award is another giant step forward as we continue to execute within the reprogrammed CH-53K program timeline,” said Col. Jack Perrin, program manager for the Naval Air Systems Command’s heavy lift program office. “As the long-range logistic support backbone for the U.S. Marine Corps, it is essential that we get this aircraft to the fleet as quickly and as affordably as possible.”

As the CH-53K moves toward IOT&E in 2021, developmental flight tests are wrapping up. Recently completed testing includes air-to-air refueling while carrying a 27,000-pound (12,250-kilogram) external load, sea trials aboard the USS Wasp, and flight testing in a degraded visual environment in Yuma, Arizona.

With more than 2,000 flight hours, the 53K is nearing the end of a rocky developmental effort by Sikorsky and the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps aviation high command recently declared themselves “very, very happy” with recent progress.

A newly-installed 10-ton crane lifts a 12,000-pound main gearbox assembly into a CH-53K production aircraft on Sikorsky’s final assembly line in Stratford, Connecticut. Sikorsky Photo

The CH-53K program has five aircraft on the line at Sikorsky facilities in Connecticut and over two dozen in various stages of production. The program will deliver the first low rate initial production aircraft in September 2021. 

Sikorsky and its suppliers have made significant investments in facilities, machinery, tooling, and workforce training to ramp up production required for the CH-53K program, according to the company. Recently, newly-installed 10-ton cranes lifted a 12,000-lb. (5,440-kg) gearbox assembly into a CH-53K production aircraft. 

“The production of this CH-53K helicopter represents a new era in capabilities, technologies, safety and mission flexibility for the U.S. Marine Corps. Sikorsky is committed to supporting the Marine Corps to maximize the benefits of this all-new helicopter,” said Bill Falk, Sikorsky CH-53K program director. “Pilots are already training on state-of-the art flight training devices to prepare in a safe, cost-effective manner for operational deployment.”

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