The US Marine Corps is set to receive another CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter as part of their artillery expansion. These will be supplied by Sikorsky Aircraft, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary.
“This Connecticut-built CH-53K aircraft is a credit to our employees and their skills embracing digital tools and other advanced technologies to continue the Sikorsky legacy of building modern, safe, reliable rotorcraft. Our nationwide supply chain supports the active production line as we prepare to deliver two more CH-53K helicopters later this year,” Bill Falk, director Sikorsky CH-53K program, says. “We look forward to continuing our progress toward next year’s full rate production decision.”
The aircraft was built in Sikorsky’s digital factory and is said to be a powerhouse regarding tech integration and networks that include maintenance, design, and training instructions. As the only sea-based, long-range, heavy lift helicopter in production, the CH-53K, the US Marine Corps, can now expand its operations and introduce long-range missions to the department.
The CH-53K series is now a crucial part of the United States military and is used in various branches. This is why this heavy-hitter is now dubbed the “King Stallion.”
The “King Stallion” has a capacity of “27,000 pounds (30,000 at maximum capacity) versus its predecessor, which can only carry 9,628 pounds.” Though it has a similar aesthetic with its predecessor, the ground testing in a digital environment allowed Sikorsky to improve upon the previous design.
The initial program tests had its bumps. It had mechanical and operational issues, including rotor gearbox reliability, tail boom, and rotor structure problems. However, these have been addressed with the final version of the CH-53Ks.
Other improvements include new engines and cockpit layout. It also has doubled its lift capacity and radius of action (now better than the CH-53E). Because of its wider cargo hold, it can ideally carry a Humvee inside.
The engine is powered by the General Electric GE38-1B, mainly selected to improve its speed. Each of the three T408 engines is rated at 7,500 shp (5,600 KW). This gives the CH-53K the fly 20 knots (23mph) faster than the CH-53E.
The “King Stallion” in the Making
Sikorsky Aircraft was awarded over $300 million in funding in 2017 to produce CH-53Ks. Even during the beginning stages of its development, the military intended the CH-53Ks to be the main courier for the US Marine Corps.
I am proud of what the team has negotiated to bring this remarkable and unrivaled helicopter one step closer to the fleet,” said Col Hank Vanderborght, program manager for NAVAIR’s Heavy Lift Helicopters program, PMA-261.
“This contract will benefit our Marine Corps’ ‘heavy lifters’ for decades to come,” said Vanderborght. “Future Marines, not even born yet, will be flying this helicopter well into the future.”
“Initial deliveries from Lot 1 are expected to begin in 2020. The CH-53K is a new-build helicopter that evolved from the design of its predecessor, the CH-53E Super Stallion. Improvements with the King Stallion include increased operational capability, interoperability, reliability, maintainability, survivability and decreased cost of ownership.
The “King Stallion” has now replaced the former CH-53E, AKA “Super Stallion,” which was first produced in 1981.
Because of the advanced improvements on this powerhouse, congress was prepared to allot a good chunk of money for producing these helicopters. Rep. Niki Tsongas previously spoke before the House of Armed Forces Subcommittee hearing and said that they expect the price to increase by around 14 percent to 22 percent.
“The Marine Corps intends to buy 200 of these aircraft, so that cost growth multiplied times 200 is a heck of a lot of money,” Tsongas said during the hearing. “And even if there is no additional cost growth, it seems worth pointing out that $122 million per aircraft in 2006 dollars exceeds the current cost of an F-35A aircraft for the Air Force by a significant margin.”
Best Investment for the US Military
Though the CH-53Ks cost a lot of money, it’s undeniable that its capabilities are unmatched. It can serve as the military’s workhorse and provide more accurate information to its pilot with its improved tech features.
Yes, the production cost has increased yearly, but its long-term impact is already giving back its value to the US Marine Corps in just the first decade of use.