WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.–The Marine Corps’ new heavy lift CH-53K helicopter was unveiled during a glittery rollout ceremony Monday at prime contractor Sikorsky’s plant here, with Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos announcing it would be known as the “King Stallion.”

The Marines' new CH-53K heavy lift helicopter.
The Marines’ new CH-53K heavy lift helicopter. Photo by Defense Daily.

The nickname was derived from the earlier Sea Stallion and Super Stallion airframes in the CH-53 family of Sikorsky-built aircraft and whose service in the Marine Corps dates back decades. The aircraft on display at the ceremony is one of four being built for flight testing as part of a $3.5 billion contract awarded to Sikorsky, a division of United Technologies [UTX], in 2006.

The King Stallion is an entirely new designed helicopter, although it resembles the previous versions in appearance because it must be within the requirements to operate off of aircraft carriers and their hangar elevators, Marine Col. Robert Pridgen, the program manager for the CH-53K, told reporters ahead of the rollout.

“It is a new aircraft clean sheet all the way up,” he said, noting that was the case once it had met the footprint requirement for aircraft carrier operations. “We were off and running from there,” Pridgen said.

The CH-53K was rolled out at Sikorsky plant in West Palm Beach, Fla. Photo by Defense Daily
The CH-53K was rolled out at Sikorsky’s plant in West Palm Beach, Fla. Photo by Defense Daily

The MH-53K is a break from its predecessors in that it is largely made of composite rather than metal, and incorporates other new technologies. The CH-53K is capable of carrying 27,000 pounds of sling load cargo, tripling the amount of the preceding CH-53E Super Stallion. It employs three new General Electric [GE] T408 engines that have 57 percent more power than the ones on the CH-53E, according to Sikorsky. The aircraft was digitally designed, has new rotor blades, a new transmission and is fly-by-wire.

Flight demonstrations are scheduled to begin at the end of this year and the Marine Corps is targeting 2019 for initial operational capability. A decision on low-rate initial production is set for 2016.

The CH-53K’s development experienced some delays and cost growth before it was re-baselined in 2009.

“Since that time we have been managing cost very, very well,” Pridgen said, adding that any cost growth has been at less than five percent. “We are getting some good cost control. We know where they money is going. We have been stable now for three or four years.”

The Marine Corps plans to build 200 CH-53Ks. Rear Adm. CJ Jaynes, the program executive officer for air anti-submarine warfare, assault and special mission programs at Naval Air Systems Command, said she does not expect current budget woes to impact the Navy’s and Marine Corps’ commitment to the program.

“This is the future of heavy lift for the Marine Corps so there is no appetite to reduce that number or have the program go away,” she said.

Amos told reporters after the ceremony that he is optimistic the CH-53K will meet its timeframes going forward, and said the King Stallions will give the Marines a greater capability to move heavy equipment to shore quickly

“It will give you the kind of capability to get all that stuff to shore very quickly and move around the battlefield,” Amos said.