Currently under contract for a total of 14 low-rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft, Sikorsky continues to be bullish regarding the current programme and prospects for the CH-53K KING STALLION heavy-lift helicopter. An additional six System Demonstration Test Article (SDTA) aircraft brings total production to 20 airframes, of which one SDTA has already been delivered to the US Marine Corps (USMC).
“We have 20 aircraft in various stages of production. The first CH-53K heavy lift helicopter was delivered in May 2018 and is stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina. This aircraft is currently being used by the USMC to conduct logistics demonstrations of the maintenance, sustainment and overall aviation logistics support elements of the KING STALLION weapon system. This demonstration will validate maintenance procedures with Marine Corps maintainers conducting hands-on care and upkeep of the aircraft. The Supportability Test Plan will ensure readiness and support on the flight line when CH-53K helicopters enter into service with the USMC,” stated CH-53K Program Director, Bill Falk.
Under the US Navy contract awarded this May to Sikorsky for the 12 CH-53K helicopters from Lot II and Lot III of the aircraft’s LRIP production, Sikorsky will begin deliveries in 2022 and will also provide spares and logistical support. “Sikorsky employees and our nationwide supply chain are ready to ramp up CH-53K production to support deployment of this modern, safe and reliable aircraft in 2023-2024,” Falk pointed out.
As with any major aviation programme, there are efforts to achieve commonality among early and later airframes. Although CH-53K LRIP Lot 1 helicopters are currently under contract to deliver to a different configuration than the later 12 LRIP Lot 2/3 helicopters, “Sikorsky anticipates the USMC will pursue a future contract action to upgrade the Lot 1 aircraft to the deployable configuration on a timeline that supports the overall USMC needs,” Falk added.
Beyond the USMC customer, Sikorsky has formally offered the multi-mission CH-53K KING STALLION to Germany as the Luftwaffe’s next heavy-lift helicopter. Falk emphasised the capabilities the KING STALLION brings to this competition. “The CH-53K is a modern heavy-lift solution that will provide the German armed forces with a safe, reliable heavy-lift helicopter that can be entered into service seamlessly without need for costly and time-consuming upgrades for the next several decades. Sikorsky’s strong German industry team [Rheinmetall – which will lead the effort – and MTU, ZFL, Autoflug, Hydro, Rockwell Collins Germany, Jenoptik, Hensoldt, Liebherr and Rohde & Schwarz] will provide sustainment and maintenance over the next 40+ years, ensuring high-quality jobs for decades to come. As a digital helicopter with state-of-the art communication and data-link capabilities, it is well suited for customisation of integrated additional capability by German industry. The CH-53K can move more equipment and troops and equipment in less time and fewer sorties than any other helicopter in its class - this saves time and money. The 21st century design makes the CH-53K especially suited for combat search and rescue, special operations, medical evacuation/transport and tactical movement of cargo and personnel.”
In addition to Germany, the Israeli Air Force is considering a replacement for its YAS’UR fleet, with Sikorsky confident that the CH-53K is the right aircraft for Israel. “The CH-53K offers the best value to the IAF and offers unrivaled growth potential over its lifecycle,” observed Sikorsky President, Dan Schultz. “The CH-53K is the only true heavy-lift solution for the Israeli Air Force. Newly designed and providing superior safety, capability, growth and affordability, the CH-53K will enable a worthy transition from one CH-53 generation to the next within the Israeli Air Force.” Competing with Sikorsky for this contract is Boeing and its CH-47 CHINOOK.
Back in the US, Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and its suppliers have made significant investments in facilities, machinery, tooling and workforce training to ramp up production required for the CH-53K programme. “For example, we have installed more than eight new titanium machining centers, designed and implemented a new final assembly test facility with multi-floor ergonomic work platforms, installed 10-ton cranes, and now have 3-D work instructions on the factory floor,” Mr Falk revealed, concluding, “We have transformed our factory for the future and implemented a model for all future helicopter programmes. Additionally, our engineers have implemented the latest technologies, such as manufacturing simulation and 3D laser inspection technology. These investments in systems, personnel and our facilities have elevated Sikorsky's manufacturing technology and capabilities to meet production requirements of the CH-53K for domestic and international customers.”