Home » Aviation » Marines’ CH-53K Heavy Lift Helicopter Approved To Enter Production


Marines’ CH-53K Heavy Lift Helicopter Approved To Enter Production

U.S. Marine Corps pilots maneuver a CH-53K King Stallion as it delivers a 12,000 pound external load after completing a 110 nautical mile mission during the two-week initial operational test (OT-B1) conducted at Sikorsky. Sikorsky photo.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Pentagon today formally approved the Marine Corps’ CH-53K Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter program to move into production.

The aircraft, which replaces the CH-53E, provides about three times the external lift capability, greater ranges and better reliability for the Marine Corps, in support of the service hauling heavier equipment at greater standoff distances from ship to shore.

“On April 4, 2017, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD(AT&L)) approved the Navy’s request for the CH-53K King Stallion program to enter into the Production and Deployment phase,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Patrick Evans said in a statement.
“From the review, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the USD(AT&L) determined that the program is ready for the Production and Deployment phase.”

“The team has worked really hard to ensure we could get here, to Milestone C, and to begin low-rate initial production,” Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said in a statement.
“I’m very proud of all of them, and I’m looking forward to getting the most powerful heavy-lift helicopter ever designed into the hands of our Marines.”

Ahead of that Milestone C acquisition decision, program manager Col. Henry Vanderborght told reporters at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space exposition that “there are so many improvements that have been made to this aircraft” to boost lift capability, safety, reliability and maintainability.

“This capability right here is really going to be an incredible step increase for the warfighter and the [Marine Air-Ground Task Force],” he said.
“Basically 3X the lift capability in the same ambient conditions as the legacy aircraft, meaning the K will be able to lift three times more than the 53E in that 110 nautical mile environment, 103 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level with [a landing zone] of 3,000 (feet) … above sea level, with 91.5 Fahrenheit at that LZ. That’s basically our key performance parameter.”

Beyond the sheer numbers, Vanderborght said automation, both in the control modes and in tracking and predicting maintenance needs, will make the aircraft safer and easier to operate.

“Basically the 53K will be able to fly to an LZ pretty much hands off and pick up a hover in total brownout conditions – and that’s one of the areas where we’ve lost a lot of aircraft, a lot of Es,” he said.
“So from a safety standpoint, survivability, it’s just incredibly more capable than what we have today, and the Marines pretty much can’t wait to get it.”

He said the new aircraft would cost about the same as its predecessor in operations and sustainment costs, but for that money the Marines would get a much higher sortie generation rate.

A Fleet Common Operating Environment (FCOE), which has been running for years on the CH-53E, collects aircraft maintenance data and ultimately may help the Marines get to a condition-based maintenance environment.

“There’s so much data coming off this airplane, that the idea will be the airplane will tell you when you need to start removing things, when the operator needs to start removing things, and that will save a lot of money and time,” Vanderborght said.

For example, he said, the main rotor gear box on the legacy CH-53E used to be overhauled every 2,000 hours, but a study with FCOE data proved maintainers could overhaul it at 2,400 hours instead.

“What that equates to is five less main rotor gear boxes that we’ve got to pull every year at a savings of about $4.7 million,” the program manager said.
“That’s just one example, there are many others.”

Michael Torok, Sikorsky’s vice president of CH-53K programs, said at the same media briefing that “the amount and magnitude of sensors that are on the aircraft,” plus the computing power in FCOE, “really allows the maintainers, when the aircraft comes back in, to debrief, you stick the [cards] into the laptops and all of that diagnostics on the ground station basically will really focus in on any maintenance that is required. So false removals go down, false alarms go down. Really focuses and reduces mean time to repair. So that automation, that technology is really going to play a significant role” in keeping operations and sustainment costs down.

Torok said the first four CH-53Ks have been “mapping out the rest of the edge of the envelop” for how the aircraft can operate beyond its basic requirement of 27,000 pounds for 110 nautical miles. Additionally, aircraft 5 and 6 are already under contract, and Sikorsky is buying long-lead materials for the first Low-Rate Initial Production contract of two aircraft. Sikorsky’s production line, which will consolidate to their Connecticut facility, will eventually build 24 aircraft a year and reach full-rate production in 2020.

Overall program costs for the CH-53K come to about $87 million per helicopter and $133 million per unit when research and development, spares, and other program costs are included. The first four helos that had been used for testing will deliver to the Marine Corps next year, with LRIP aircraft delivering starting in 2021, the Marine Corps said in its statement.

  • Bailey Zhang

    Army’s CH47F is old and need new engine, why not army use the new T408 instead of upgrade T55? T408 is much better than the upgraded T 55.

    • Secundius

      To big a Difference in Size and Weight between the T408’s and the T55’s. Will “Throw Off” the Center of Gravity on a Tandem Bladed Helicopter…

  • madskills

    So $133 million per helicopter…. WOW! And probably all they are doing is reinforcing the frame, buying a more advanced engine, different blades, and a different paint color… Unit cost for the E models was $24 million, The US public is getting screwed with zero grease…..

    • Horn

      That $24m price tag was from the early 1990s with a full production run, and with allied orders, and doesn’t include the R&D costs. It’d be closer to $42m now excluding R&D.
      The CH-53K is a complete redesign of the Super Stallion. That’s one of the reasons why R&D costs were so high and why initial unit cost is so high. Take out R&D costs and you are looking at around $87m per helicopter. The King Stallion is a significant improvement over the 53E in terms of performance, reliability, and readiness. The 53E has several design flaws that have been wracking up maintenance hours that warrant a complete replacement. All we need are some more allies to make some orders and you’ll see the unit cost drop. I hear Germany is looking to buy 40+ units. That should help.

      • Duane

        Yup, Horn. Plus as stated in this post, the new bird triples the weight capacity – meaning one carries as much as three of the old model, and the data-based maintenance system drastically increases the sortie rate … one of the new will do what around 4 or 5 of the old do today. For a doubling of the cost per airframe.

        Very cost-effective.

      • madskills

        So we are going to pay more then what an f-35 costs for these. I hope you’re right everything works out. But we haven’t had the always present “increase costs”. Wait until we have a conflict and two of these are taken out in one day. They could buy the 11,000 m-27s needed for the riflemen. I have a hard time believing design costs increased the price by double, triple if you include R&D. You could buy a whole lot of UH-1Bs and Kiowas for that. I’m always afraid of the military and their “gotts to have” attitude. Yet we have had the inferior M-16s and M4s around for 50 years….

        • Secundius

          Right?/! And you could buy ~16 M4 Sherman’s for the Price of 1 M1 Abrams in 2017 Prices, too…

          • madskills

            I used a m113 in Vietnam and they were cool. Should should have seen all the trees we knocked down… 13 tons of aluminum made by the American Can Company…..LOL! We’ll see what happens on this… did you see they now want stealth fueling planes for the AF…. Speical paint job, $42 million per plane….. Wait for it.

          • Secundius

            You could Reproduce the SAME M113 Gavin using ~1.6-inches (41.1mm)of “ALON” (Aluminum Oxynitride) a Cermet (Ceramic Metal) Compound. that can Stop a Armor Piercing .50-Caliber (12.7x99mmR) round at Point Blank Range. With ONE Added Benefit, ALON is “Transparent” to the Naked Eye (aka, Transparent Aluminum)…

          • madskills

            Polish it up so it looked like an Airstream……

          • Secundius

            How would Polishing something “Transparent” give it a Polished “Mirror” Finish…

          • madskills

            Don’t paint it green polish it and then have the ALON on top….I might be missing something….. I’m getting older….

          • Secundius

            Wouldn’t an “Electrochemical Anodization” be easier…

          • madskills

            There you go…. couldn’t you see a couple troops of m113s with some Abrams running across the desert somewhere in the Middle East…

          • Secundius

            M113’s are Too Slow to keep up with the Abrams’! Now maybe some Buford’s and you might have something…

          • madskills

            We could do 45 mph. I remember getting one stuck and driving back thru the villages back to base. Scared to death, sitting on top, holding on to the m60, hoping not to fall off….LOL!

          • Secundius

            What did you do? Supercharge them! The ones we had in Germany could “Barely” approach 40mph…

          • madskills

            Me and the other two guys were a lot lighter then we are today. We got one stuck in a creek and had to wait for tank retriever to get us out….. What a cluster #$^%…..

          • Secundius

            In 1979 we had an M113A1 with a Bad “Detroit Diesel” and started the replace it with a Allison T-63 Turboshaft. Nearly 200hp more than the Detroit Diesel. Then in 1980, got Near Fatal Injury that Cost me a Year in the Hospital and Discharged in Late 1981. Never found out whether the Turboshaft Replacement Engine “worked”…

          • madskills

            Thanks for the great chatter… Hope you are as good as new now…. Dean

          • old guy

            M-113 Al sides couldn’t stop a .30 caliber round. Does anyone know what happened to the composite version?

          • Secundius

            Were they produced using Xerxes Fiberglass Composites and Nicalon SiC Silicon Carbide Ceramic Composite?

          • Secundius

            If their made with the Composites that I Lister Below? Than NASA “Has” and/or “Had” Them! Four were purchased in 1981 as RtR (Ready to Rescue) Vehicles when the Space Shuttle went into Service. Job function was to Race to the Shuttle Launch pad within 70-seconds after Shuttle Launch, as a Safety Vehicle. Stationed ONLY 1,450-meters from the Launch Site, Composite Armor made them “Perfect” vehicles for the Duty. Stayed in service for 30-years, current Disposition Unknown…

          • old guy

            I bid, for my company, to be second source to FMC to produce M-113s. The year 1962. The price: $21,000.00 per copy. Politics cost us the job. Just a recollection. As I remember the M-114 was being built by Chrysler, in Cleve;and, at CATAP. It was a total junker. Sort of an early V-22.

          • madskills

            Great vehicle with the slab sides, all that height, you could see over the bush…. They just needed to update it. They’ll replace them with something that’s a million dollars a copy with 5% extra special stuff.

          • old guy

            I knew of the original contracts with FMC, but not American Can. please see below.

  • Secundius

    Last I heard the CH-53K was having problems just Lifting what the CH-53E could Lift…

    • old guy

      Just heard max lift exceded.

      • Secundius

        Actually it was “Kind-Off” Misleading?/! Milestone “C” (aka, 10 U.S.C. 2366c) was reached with a Maximum Sling Load of 27,000-pounds in a “Hover”, but Actual Weight on an 110nmi Controlled Course was reduced to just 12,000-pounds. But an 14,001-pound was achieved in Tests, though it “Doesn’t” mention Fuel Load or Air Density at the Time of the Test…

  • b2

    Gee. Has it had OPEVAL (OT) yet? LOL- of course not. That’s only how they did business in the olden days of the Reagan administration.
    Now we have three(3) of DoDs most expensive aircraft in “production” with only 1/3 having had an OT after an 8 year delay from 2000-2008. Why is this? Is this normal? 😉
    The Marines are not very efficient at procurement even though the Navy through NAVAIR helps them… Why is that and how much is the American taxpayer willing to pay for a self described 9-11 force? Who is in charge and accountable?

    • old guy

      In the olden days, it was called,”Smoke and Mirrors.”

  • Jeff Kyle

    All I can say is I’d give my left one just for the chance to fly on one. I just missed out on the E models when I switched from the Marine Corps to the Air Force. I did get to add a couple more Sikorsky helicopters to my list.
    Cpl, Crew Chief, USMC, CH-53A/D.
    SMSgt, Crew Chief, USAF, HH-53B/C, C/HH-3E, M/HH-60G, S-92 demonstrator, FE Warren AFB.