Sikorsky’s CH-53K KING STALLION helicopter successfully completed inflight refuelling tests with a USMC KC-130J SUPER HERCULES in US waters in April, thus achieving another major programme milestone.
Inflight refuelling has been defined as an essential capability for the Bundeswehr’s new heavy transport helicopter Schwerer Transporthubschrauber (STH) programme, substantially expanding its operational flexibility. Sikorsky and Rheinmetall have joined forces to offer Germany the CH-53 K for the STH requirement: the most advanced, most intelligent helicopter currently available.
In particular, the CH-53K’s advanced fly-by-wire flight control significantly reduces strain on the crew during inflight refuelling operations, as confirmed in the recent tests. In addition to extended range and endurance, advantages accruing from the capability also include the ability carry more personnel and materiel for longer distances under more challenging operational conditions than any other aircraft of its kind.
Interoperability is also an important benefit: the C-130J and CH-53K can both accommodate 463L-standard air cargo pallets; using the same pallets in the fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft offers immense advantages when it comes to loading and unloading materiel – and the same pallets can be used in other aircraft such as the A400M, further enhancing interoperability. This fundamentally reinforces existing military cooperation between France and Germany: the two nations are currently creating a joint fleet of C-130J/KC-130J aircraft.
Full-scale production of the CH-53K has now begun in the US, as planned. In all, 31 aircraft are currently at different stages of completion. The first USMC CH-53K squadron is expected to be operational by 2023/24.
In Germany a procurement decision regarding STH anticipated for early 2021. The first aircraft could be delivered in 2024, as required, thus enabling a seamless transition from the current CH-53G fleet, coupled with training of personnel and establishing the support facilities required for German operations. Transition from the current Bundeswehr CH-53G fleet to STH is to be complete by 2032.