The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced on October 26 that it had awarded Sikorsky a US$550m contract modification to produce and deliver six CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift transport helicopters.
In the announcement, the DoD outlined that the modification is for Lot IV low rate initial production (LRIP) and delivery of the six aircraft, along with “programmatic and logistics support, rate tooling and physical configuration audits.” US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) – based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland – is leading the contracting activity, which is scheduled to be completed in July 2024. Work to produce and deliver the CH-53Ks will primarily take place across the continental US, Canada and the UK.
Sikorsky – a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin – developed the CH-53K King Stallion to replace the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) ageing CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift transport helicopter fleet. The service currently plans to acquire roughly 200 examples to fulfil this requirement and accepted its first example in May 2018 for trials and testing purposes.
The King Stallion is a complete redesign when compared the CH-53E. It features a new cockpit layout, a composite rotor blade system and three GE Aviation T408 turboshaft engines, with each providing 7,500shp of thrust each. The King Stallion can carry more than three times as much as its predecessor and boasts a wider cargo hold that enables it to carry a Humvee internally. It requires a crew of four to operate and can transport up to 30 passengers or troops.
The CH-53K’s development has been plagued with problems and delays, as more than 100 technical issues were found with the platform. However, these deficiencies have now mostly been solved and the King Stallion looks set to enter the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase of the programme next year.