The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) awarded Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] Sikorsky unit a $736 million contract on June 25 to build nine CH-53K King Stallion helicopters for the Marine Corps along with an option for nine more aircraft.

This is a Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Fiscal Year 2021 Lot 5 contract with deliveries of the aircraft set for December 2024 as part of an overall 200 helicopter program of record for the Marine Corps. Award of the option is possible in FY ‘22. 

The contract is a modification to a previous award to increase the scope for nine Lot 5 LRIP CH-53Ks and their associated support. Work will largely be split between Stratford, Conn. (37 percent); Wichita, Kan. (10 percent); Salt Lake City, Utah (6 percent); St. Louis, Mo. (4 percent); and Bridgeport, W.Va. (3 percent) and various other U.S. and international locations.

In March 2020, the Navy originally awarded Sikorsky a $125 million advanced acquisition contract to procure long-lead items for seven Lot 5 LRIP helicopters, with initial work expected to be finished in August 2021 (Defense Daily, March 27, 2020).

In a 2019 presolicitation post, the Navy said it planned to negotiate a sole source contract with Sikorsky for LRIP of Lot 5 and 6 CH-53K helicopters. Lot 5 was expected to consist of eight aircraft while Lot 6 would have another 11 (Defense Daily, Sept. 3, 2019).

NAVAIR said the Lot 5 contract is worth a total $878.7 million, making the Sikorsky portion of the Lot 5 aircraft cost $97.6 million each. Thereafter, the Lot 6 helicopters are expected to have a reduced cost of $94.7 million each for a total of $852.5 million. These costs do not include the engines or Government Furnished Equipment.

NAVAIR said the FY ‘21 Lot 5 and FY ‘22 Lot 6 contracts represent an average unit airframe cost reduction of $7.4 million from the FY ‘20 Lot 4 aircraft to the FY ‘22 Lot 6 aircraft.

The Lot 5 award brings the total CH-53K program aircraft to 33 total helicopters delivered or on contract.

The CH-53K is powered by three General Electric [GE] T-408 engines, which the Navy says are more powerful and efficient than the current T-64 engines on the CH-53E helicopter.

In late 2019, NAVAIR said a team of government and industry engineers solved and mitigated engine integration issues for the aircraft, one of several design deficiencies the Marine Corps found in flight tests. At the time, the NAVAIR said any remaining technical issues that required solutions were on track to be resolved within the aircraft’s test timeline (Defense Daily, Dec. 18, 2019).

“This contract award is a testament to the hard work and dedication from the team to execute this critical program in support of the U.S. Marine Corps’ heavy lift requirement,” Col. Jack Perrin, program manager, PMA-261 heavy lift helicopter, said in a statement.

“As the long-range logistic support backbone for the U.S. Marine Corps, it is essential that we get this critical capability to the fleet as quickly and as affordably as possible,” Perrin added.

The CH-53K program is next set to begin Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) in July and “is poised to support the Marine Corps’ declaration of Initial Operational Capability,” NAVAIR said.

Three system demonstration test article aircraft are currently being operated by the Marine Corps’ Operational Test and Evaluation squadron, VMX-1, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. in preparation for commencement of IOT&E.