The US Navy has awarded Sikorsky a $2.7bn contract to build and deliver 35 additional CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift transport helicopters – comprising 12 Lot 7 and 15 Lot 8 aircraft for the USMC, along with a further eight examples for Israel (adding to the four announced in 2022).
Announced on August 24, this contract represents the largest order for the CH-53K to date and also marks a further step toward a multi-year agreement to fulfil the requirement for 200 King Stallions as outlined in the USMC’s Program of Record. The USMC plans to field five King Stallion-equipped fleet Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadrons (HMHs) to replace eight units that are currently equipped with the older CH-53E Super Stallion. Three of these squadrons will be deactivated as part of the USMC’s Force Design 2030 initiative.
While current squadrons have operated with just 12 helicopters in recent years, four of the new CH-53K units will each be equipped with 16 aircraft, while the fifth will field 20 airframes. More CH-53Ks will be assigned to a Fleet Replacement Squadron and other test units.
The CH-53K programme moved to full-rate production in December 2022, which is expected to increase the output of new King Stallions to an annual rate of more than 20 helicopters in future years. Sikorsky is already procuring long-lead items to support the ramp up of CH-53K production.
CH-53K Ground Test Vehicle testing started in April 2014, with flight testing beginning on October 27, 2015. The first King Stallion was delivered to the USMC on May 16, 2018, when 18 more examples were in production. The CH-53K achieved Initial Operational Capability on April 22, 2022, when the first fleet unit, HMH-461 ‘Ironhorse’, had four aircraft on strength – the minimum number needed for a detachment to deploy with a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Eight more helicopters are to be delivered before the end of 2023, followed by a further 16 in 2024. Before this latest agreement, 46 CH-53Ks were on order, including four for Israeli Air Force. Sikorsky will start to deliver the first of the 35 new CH-53Ks on order in 2026.