Following a decision made by Frederick J Stefany, the Assistant Secretary of the US Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift transport helicopter formally entered full-rate production (FRP) at the end of 2022.
The decision – which was announced on December 27 – marks a major milestone for the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) plan to acquire 200 CH-53Ks, which will ultimately replace the service’s ageing fleet of CH-53E Super Stallions. Sikorsky is now expected to produce 20 CH-53K helicopters per year, with help from a supply chain that spans 200 companies across 34 US states. The USMC declared initial operational capability (IOC) on the King Stallion in 2022 and, now that the platform is in FRP, the fleet is due to reach full operational capability (FOC) in 2029.
Commenting on the decision, Col Kate Fleeger – program manager with the US Navy’s H-53 Heavy Lift Program Office (PMA-261) – said: “We have successfully demonstrated the performance and reliability of this aircraft. With FRP we will continue to build on the strong manufacturing, sustainment and support that has been established for the CH-53K.”
The CH-53K was formally placed into FRP on December 21, 2022, following the signing of an Acquisition Decision Memorandum. The FRP phase of aircraft production comes after the low-rate initial production (LRIP) stage has concluded and a review assesses the outcomes of the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) campaign, live-fire test and evaluation, risk and affordability analyses, and production readiness review analyses.
Bill Falk, director of the CH-53K programme at Sikorsky, added: “Ramping up production of the most technologically advanced helicopter in the world allows the USMC to build out its CH-53K King Stallion fleet and support mission success. This production authorisation stabilises Sikorsky’s domestic supply chain and is a testament to our enduring partnership with the Marine Corps.”