The Pentagon on April 4 gave the go-ahead for production of the Marine Corps’ new $27 billion CH-53K heavy lift helicopter.
Following a review of the engineering and manufacturing development, the acting undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD(AT&L)) approved the Navy's request for the CH-53K King Stallion program to enter the production and deployment phase.
“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,” a Pentagon spokesman said in an emailed statement.
Manufactured by Lockheed Martin's [LMT] Sikorsky unit, the CH-53K King Stallion is designed to provide three times the lift and range of the legacy CH-53E it will replace. It will be the largest and most technologically advanced helicopter of any rotorcraft in the U.S. military inventory when fielded.
"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."
The milestone decision clears the way for Sikorsky to begin low-rate initial production (LRIP), but finalizing a deal to begin LRIP also will require Congress to pass a defense authorization bill, Col. Henry Vanderborgt, the Marine Corps' heavy lift helicopter program manager, said. The Marine Corps has applied for an exception to the rule that no new-start programs begin under a continuing resolution, a legislative measure that keeps the federal government funded during the current fiscal year although at the previous year's levels.
So far Sikorsky has built a ground test vehicle and four flight test aircraft. The ground test vehicle has undergone 500 hours of testing. The other four test aircraft have collectively flown 430 hours.
The fifth aircraft – the first of six LRIP airframes currently on contract – will be built at Lockheed Martin's Stratford, Conn. facility. Long-lead-time materials for the seventh and eighth LRIP aircraft already are purchased under a contract signed a year ago.
The Marine Corps program of record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft. The first four production airframes are scheduled for delivery next year to the Marine Corps, with another two aircraft to follow. Two additional aircraft are under long lead procurement for parts and materials, with deliveries scheduled to start in 2021.
In order to support operational requirements, the Marine Corps intends to transition eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron from CH-53E to CH-53K.