The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion is a heavy-lift cargo helicopter currently being produced by Sikorsky Aircraft for the United States Marine Corps (USMC).
In 2018 the Marine Corps received its first CH-53K King Stallion, capable of lifting more than three times the weight of its predecessor. But with more than 100 technical issues found with the helicopter, the promising program was set back by two years. Now nearly all the technical issues have been solved and only a few tests remain before the King Stallion can be cleared for operational testing, a Sikorsky official told Marine Corps Times.
“The majority of the issues are closed, all the tough ones are already behind us and done,” said Bill Falk, a program director from Sikorsky, the helicopter’s manufacturer. “We have a few more that we have to do the final demonstration in the next couple of months … then we’ll have demonstrated closure on all the technical issues and could start operational testing and evaluation,” Falk added.
So far 118 of the 126 technical issues already have been solved, Megan Wasel, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Systems Command, told Marine Corps Times in a Monday email. In December, engineers were able to successfully overcome a major exhaust gas reingestion issue, which caused the aircraft’s engine to suck back in dirty air, reducing its power.
The CH-53K is scheduled to join Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One on Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, by the end of October, Wasel said. “The program is moving toward completion of developmental test in early 2021, leading to Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) in 2021,” she added.
The first deployment for the CH-53K is expected to take place in either late 2023 or early 2024, she added. The CH-53K boasts a maximum external lift of 36,000 pounds and has the capability of moving 27,000 pounds 110 nautical miles, a potential boon to the Corps as it plans to operate on small islands spread across the Pacific as part of its new force design. However, as the Corps plans to reshape on a budget, the cost of the program may create a problem.
The current total program acquisition cost comes in at $148 million per aircraft, Wasel told Marine Corps Times. The Marine Corps historically has argued that the best cost to consider is the recurring fly-away cost, which so far is $92 million per aircraft, Wasel said. The Corps is still looking for ways to cut down the cost to what was expected in 2017. “The CH-53K King Stallion program continues to be committed to driving the average Unit Flyaway Cost down to $87M per aircraft as planned,” Wasel said in the email. “The cost of the aircraft continues to go down, lot after lot,” Falk said.