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To tamp down the ultimate cost of buying the massive Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion, the U.S. Marine Corps is considering a fleet of less than the planned 200 helicopters, according to the service’s top aviator.
A single CH-53K, the largest single-rotor helicopter in U.S. military history, ran just under $100 million in the last lot the Marine Corps purchased. That’s about on par with a Lockheed Martin F-35B fighter jet, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri, pointed out during a June 30 hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces.
Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Mark Wise answered that the program of record already has been scaled back from 220 aircraft to 200 and could drop even further, though the reduction likely would come from the final production lots.
“It is possible, absolutely, it just won’t be as low as you might think if you did the straight math for it, because of the requirement being 220 initially,” Wise said. “It could go below 200 and it may, but I’m not sure it’s going to go grossly below.”
“As we look at force design and how that will affect that program, if there is a reduction it will probably be less than we would normally think had we actually bought the program of record that was the requirement to begin with,” Wise added. “As we get to determining what that number is, any reduction would not happen until the end of the program buy. So that would, working with industry, reduce the likelihood that cost would rise, depending on the last lot buys.”
In December 2005, the entire program was initially estimated to cost $70.8 billion in then-year dollars. Once the program reached production in 2017, that estimate rose to $109 billion, according to a March 2021 Government Accountability Office report on the CH-53K. The latest program estimate, calculated in 2019, is $115.5 billion for 2oo aircraft.