Israel moves forward with CH-53K acquisition

Israel’s quest for the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion has moved forward after the Israeli Air Force (IAF) signed a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) agreement with the US government on December 30 to purchase the heavy-lift transport helicopter.

The signing of this agreement comes just under a year after Israeli Defence Minister, Benny Gantz, revealed that the CH-53K had been selected to replace the IAF’s ageing fleet of CH-53 Ya’sur heavy-lift transport helicopters. The Ya’sur fleet has been in operational service since the late 1960s and is currently struggling with poor maintenance and reliability issues.

Israeli CH-53K concept image [Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin]
An artist’s rendering of the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion in IAF colours. Deliveries of the type to the Israeli air arm are scheduled to begin in 2025. Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin

On July 30, 2021, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the US State Department had approved the sale of 18 CH-53Ks to Israel for an estimated cost of $3.4bn. As per the final deal, Israel will procure 12 aircraft and has options to acquire the remaining six examples. The recently signed LoA agreement says that the IAF is scheduled to receive its first King Stallions in 2025.

The agreement states that the deal also includes an unspecified number of GE Aviation T408-GE-400 turboshaft engines. Additionally, the agreement covers the study, design and construction of related facilities; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; publications and technical documentation; aircrew and maintenance training; US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services and other related elements of logistical/programmatic support.

Commenting on the IAF’s acquisition of the King Stallion, Col Jack Perrin – program manager with the US Navy’s Heavy-Lift Helicopter Program Office (PMA-261) – said: “We’re happy the IAF recognises the unrivalled capabilities and performance of the ‘K’ and have chosen to move forward with us. Welcome to the CH-53K family!”

Israeli CH-53K [Lockheed Martin]
Israel will procure at least 12 CH-53K King Stallions through this Foreign Military Sale (FMS) deal. The nation has options to acquire six more examples, which will grow the IAF's fleet to 18 aircraft, if exercised. First deliveries are scheduled to take place in 2025. Lockheed Martin

According to US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the King Stallion “will support Israeli special operations programmes first, as well as provide the Israeli Defense Forces with a platform that has the speed, safety and gross weight capability to support all of its missions, including troop and cargo transport, and search and rescue.”

Israel is the first export customer for the CH-53K – a platform which has struggled through a troubled development process. NAVAIR states that the type is currently going through the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) phase of its development and is on track to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the US Marine Corps (USMC) early this year, with its first fleet deployment set to take place in FY2024.