The Israeli Air Force (IAF) signed a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) with the U.S. to procure the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter on Dec. 30.

This final agreement came after the State Department approved a potential $3.4 billion Foreign Military Sale of 18 King Stallions to Israel last July to replace the legacy CH-53D Yasur fleet (Defense Daily, July 30, 2021).

Israel’s Yasur rotorcraft have been operating for over 50 years.

“We’re happy the IAF recognizes the unrivaled capabilities and performance of the K and have chosen to move forward with us,” Col. Jack Perrin, Program Manager for heavy lift helicopter program office, said in a statement.

According to the LoA, first deliveries of the CH-53K are planned for 2025. 

The sale of the aircraft also includes General Electric [GE] T408-GE-400 engines and various logistical and program support.

Last August, company officials said they were trying to reach a delivery rate of three aircraft per month once the CH-53K reaches full-rate production, when including international customers such as Israel. U.S. procurement alone will boost it to a two helicopter per month production rate. At the time, Sikorsky said at a delivery rate of about one every three months (Defense Daily, Aug. 4, 2021).

In August, Perrin said the U.S. Marine Corps started the CH-53K initial operational test and evaluation phase in July 2021 and expected to finish it by February 2022, with Initial Operational Capability (IOC) expected earlier, in the fall of 2021.

However, with this latest announcement, the Marine Corps said the helicopter is “on track” to reach IOC early in 2022 and the first fleet deployment is planned for fiscal year 2024. Full operational capability is scheduled for 2029.

Last June, the service awarded Sikorsky an $878.7 million contract for nine Lot 5 helicopters with an option for a further nine under a Lot 6 contract (Defense Daily, June 25).

In October, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said after Israel it was looking to see if Germany would become the second international customer of the helicopter with a decision expected in 2022. He added three undisclosed countries were also actively talking with the company to potentially buy the aircraft and the company expects to sell at least 300 total aircraft with U.S. and international sales combined. The Marine Corps has 200 CH-53Ks planned in its program of record (Defense Daily, Oct. 15, 2021).

The U.S. Marine Corps said the CH-53K will initially support Israeli special operations programs but will also serve in the overall Israel Defense Forces with capabilities to support other missions such as troop and cargo transport and search and rescue.