The CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter has entered Full Rate Production (FRP) and its deployment phase, following a decision review by Frederick J. Stefany, Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.
FRP occurs at the end of Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) following a review assessing the results of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E), Live Fire Test and Evaluation (LFT&E), production readiness reviews, risk, and affordability analyses. On December 21, the Acquisition Decision Memorandum was signed, authorizing entry of the CH-53K King Stallion into FRP.
FRP is an important milestone to the H-53 Heavy Lift Program Office (PMA-261), as it allows the program to proceed beyond LRIP and begin increasing procurement quantities, thereby gaining production efficiencies and reducing unit costs.
«We have successfully demonstrated the performance and reliability of this aircraft», said Colonel Kate Fleeger, PMA-261 program manager. «With FRP we will continue to build on the strong manufacturing, sustainment and support that has been established for the CH-53K King Stallion».
The Marine Corps continues to execute its transition from the CH-53E Super Stallion to the CH-53K King Stallion and is on schedule to declare Full Operational Capability (FOC) in FY2029.
PMA-261 manages the cradle to grave procurement, development, support, fielding and disposal of the entire family of H-53 heavy lift helicopters.
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, delivered the third Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) CH-53K King Stallion helicopter ahead of contract schedule to the U.S. Marine Corps. This aircraft, built in Sikorsky’s digital factory, is the first CH-53K King Stallion from the Lot 2 LRIP contract awarded by the U.S. Navy in 2019, and the seventh overall delivered to the fleet. The CH‑53K’s heavy-lift capabilities exceed all other U.S. Department of Defense rotary wing platforms and is the only heavy-lift helicopter that will remain in production through 2032 and beyond.
This CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter joins the six in operation at Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, North Carolina. The CH-53K King Stallion is the only sea-based, long range, heavy lift helicopter in production and will immediately provide three times the lift capability of its predecessor.
«This Connecticut-built CH-53K King Stallion aircraft is a credit to our employees and their skills embracing digital tools and other advanced technologies to continue the Sikorsky legacy of building modern, safe, reliable rotorcraft. Our nationwide supply chain supports the active production line as we prepare to deliver two more CH-53K King Stallion helicopters later this year», said Bill Falk, Director, Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion program. «We look forward to continuing our progress toward next year’s full rate production decision».
Building Helicopters in Sikorsky’s Digital Factory
The CH-53K King Stallion helicopter was born in a digital environment, and now its digital thread connects design, manufacturing, training, and sustainment teams. This network, that includes everything from work instructions to maintenance manuals, is based on the helicopter’s single, continuous data thread that stays consistent from initial design all the way through sustainment. Today, all of Sikorsky’s aircraft programs are born in a digital environment. The power of this digital thread drives affordability, producibility and reliability across the aircraft lifecycle.
The CH-53K King Stallion is Sikorsky’s pioneer digital technology program with advancing installation of wheels, electrical units, hydraulics and more.
The high-tech production line in Connecticut is active with seven aircraft in build on final assembly.
Factory Prepares for Foreign Military Sales
Earlier this year Sikorsky secured a contract to build 12 CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopters for Israel under a U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement.
The signed Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. Government and Israel states first deliveries of the baseline aircraft are planned for 2025.
The CH-53K King Stallion helicopters will replace the Israeli Air Force (IAF) fleet of modified CH-53D Yasur helicopters, which have been in Israel’s inventory for over 50 years. The all-new CH-53K King Stallion delivers modern state-of-the-art capabilities that result in improved survivability, safety, and reduced aircrew workload over its predecessor, making it the perfect fit for the demanding IAF mission.
The Marines recently declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and have been flying and supporting the CH-53K King Stallion in the fleet environment demonstrating the aircraft is on track to deploy on schedule in 2024. The aircraft have flown more than 3,000 flight hours showcasing the CH‑53K’s performance in a range of mission scenarios and challenging environments.
The CH-53K King Stallion will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment, and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations, critical in the Indo-Pacific region.
Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Mark Wise announced the Marine Corps has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in the CH-53K King Stallion on April 22, 2022. This plan supports General Berger’s Force Design 2030 by improving capabilities and restructuring Marine Corps aviation for the future fight.
In addition to meeting IOC criteria, the CH-53K King Stallion successfully completed a thorough initial operational test and evaluation period that resulted in over 3,000 mishap free hours flown in various challenging environments and terrain.
«My full confidence in the CH-53K’s ability to execute the heavy lift mission is the result of successful developmental and operational testing conducted by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1», said Wise.
The CH-53K King Stallion is an optimized vertical, heavy lift, sea-based, long-range solution for the naval force and will immediately provide nearly three times the lift capability of the CH-53E Super Stallion, with the ability to transport one hundred percent of the vertical Marine Air-Ground Task Force. Per the Commandant’s Force Design 2030 Annual Update, the CH-53K King Stallion will complement connectors that will enable littoral maneuver and provide logistical support to a widely disaggregated naval force.
«The success to date of the CH-53K King Stallion is a reflection of the hard work and effort by the Marines, sailors, and civilians at VMX-1, H-53 Program Office (PMA-261), and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, and the support we have received over many years from across the Department of the Navy and our industry partners», said Wise.
The CH-53K King Stallion boasts an engine that produces 57% more horsepower with 63% fewer parts relative to its predecessor, which translates to an expanded capability to deliver internal and external cargo loads, providing the commander a mobility and sustainment capability the MAGTF has never had before.
The most notable attribute of the CH-53K King Stallion is its ability to maintain increased performance margins in a degraded aeronautical environment, for example at higher altitudes, hotter climates and carrying up to 27,000 lbs./12,247 kg out to 110 nautical miles/127 miles/204 km; whereas, the CH-53E Super Stallion would be limited to a 9,628-pound/4,367-kg external load in the same environment.
The Marine Corps plans to deploy the first CH-53K King Stallion Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) detachment in fiscal year 2024, setting the initial conditions for sustained CH-53K King Stallion deployments in support of MEUs.
Demonstrating its advanced capabilities in the fleet environment, the CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter completed Initial Operational Test & Evaluation test vignettes (IOT&E) paving the way for the expected declaration by the U.S. Marine Corps of Initial Operational Capability (IOC) later this year and a Full Rate Production decision in 2023.
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, built four System Demonstration Test Article CH-53K King Stallion helicopters and delivered them to the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), in Jacksonville, North Carolina, to support the seven-month evaluation, which concluded in March.
«The performance of these intelligent aircraft during Marine-operated flight tests displays the CH‑53K’s operational effectiveness and ensures it will support Marines at the forefront of combat capability and heavy lift for decades to come», said Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion program director. «The CH‑53K King Stallion delivers greater lift and endurance capabilities over the legacy aircraft. Its fly-by-wire system reduces pilot workload and enhances the ability to refuel in midair, which is critical to expanding the Marine Corps operational flexibility across all U.S. and allied military services, making the CH-53K King Stallion a powerful asset for the Marines evolving missions».
CH-53K King Stallion Integrated and Operational Tests Completion
The completion of IOT&E testing follows several CH-53K King Stallion program markers including:
Day and night time air-to-air refueling;
Air-to-air refueling with 27,000 lb./12,247 kg external load;
Sea trials with over 350 landings;
Delivery of first six production aircraft.
The CH-53K King Stallion program is on track to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2022. IOC is achieved when the first squadron receives:
Four CH-53K King Stallion helicopters with the required personnel suitably trained and certified;
Primary and support equipment and technical publications, including initial spares with interim repair support and initial training curricula, are in place and ready to deploy in accordance with U.S. Marine Corps standards.
Building Helicopters for U.S. Marine Corps and Allies
The CH-53K King Stallion established high-tech production line in Stratford, Connecticut, is active with six aircraft in build, including three on schedule for delivery this year. There are 46 aircraft fully on contract including four heavy lift helicopters for the government of Israel. The helicopters for Israel are under a U.S. Navy Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement.
An additional 10 U.S. Marine Corps aircraft are on contract for long lead material. The program of record for the U.S. Marine Corps is 200 aircraft.
The CH-53K King Stallion will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment, and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations. This capability is critical in the Indo-Pacific region and around the globe.
Prioritizing affordability and utilizing advanced manufacturing techniques, Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, will build nine additional CH-53K King Stallion aircraft at a lower unit price than previous lot buys, resulting in significant savings for the U.S. government and taxpayers. The company’s experienced supply chain coupled with its active digital approach drives speed and affordability throughout design, development, production, and sustainment.
The CH-53K King Stallion will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations, critical in the Indo-Pacific region.
These nine helicopters are part of 200 aircraft Program of Record for the U.S. Marine Corps with deliveries beginning in 2025.
«By embracing resilient, predictive logistics and sustainment, we are enabling CH-53K King Stallion crews to make smarter, faster decisions, to increase reliability, and improve readiness and material availability at reduced burden to the fleet», said Bill Falk, Sikorsky Director, CH-53K King Stallion programs. «After 50 years of supporting the CH-53E Super Stallion, Sikorsky has a deep understanding of the heavy-lift mission and an enduring partnership with the U.S. Marines Corps enabling our team and our proven supply chain to offer tailored solutions resulting in more efficient missions».
Building to Deliver
The aircraft will be built at Sikorsky headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut, leveraging the company’s digital build and advanced technology production processes.
The factory is active with seven CH-53K King Stallion aircraft in build, and there are 47 more aircraft in various stages of production.
Sikorsky has made significant investments in workforce training, tooling, and machinery to increase the number of aircraft built and delivered year over year.
In total, Sikorsky has delivered five operational CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters to the U.S. Marine Corps in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with four more planned for delivery this year.
Marines Flying CH-53K King Stallion in Fleet Environment
The CH-53K King Stallion program operated by the U.S. Marine Corps entered Initial Operational Test and Evaluation in 2021 and is set to conclude in 2022.
Sikorsky has a strong foundation to support the CH-53K King Stallion because the company already provides the U.S. Marines with predictive maintenance on the legacy CH-53E Super Stallion by utilizing the Fleet Common Operating Environment (FCOE) enabling the shift from reactive to predictive maintenance.
The CH-53K King Stallion aircraft is equipped with Integrated Vehicle Health Management System (IVHMS), which will transition the U.S. Marines from fixed interval to on-condition maintenance resulting in lower maintenance crew hours, reduced life cycle costs and increased aircraft readiness.
Lockheed Martin is working with the U.S. Navy on a performance-based logistics contract that expands from the CH-53E Super Stallion to add the CH-53K King Stallion with a contract award expected this year.
The Ministry of Defense Mission to the U.S. signed an agreement (Letter of Agreement, LOA) with the U.S. government for the purchase of 12 Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, and an additional agreement for the procurement of two Boeing KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft.
The procurement of these platforms is part of a wider Ministry of Defense program to strengthen the capabilities of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and preparedness to face current and developing threats.
The deal, signed on Thursday, includes an option to buy six additional helicopters, the ministry statement said. It said the first helicopters were due to arrive in Israel in 2026.
An Israeli government committee gave the approval for the purchase last month after the Biden administration also waved it through in July.
The new helicopters will replace the Sikorsky CH-53 Yas’ur heavy-lift aircraft that have been in use since the late 1960s.
The deal comes days after a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that the global arms industry was flourishing despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CH-53K King Stallion successfully recovered a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter from Mount Hogue in the White Mountains of California on Sunday, September 5. The two-day operation was the first official fleet mission for the Marine Corps’ new heavy lift capability, which is in the midst of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California.
«VMX-1 received a request for assistance from the Naval Safety Center about an MH-60S Knighthawk that suffered a hard landing near Mount Hogue, California, at an elevation of 12,000’ Mean Sea Level (MSL) in July», said Lieutenant Colonel Luke Frank, CH-53K King Stallion Detachment Officer in Charge for VMX-1.
The MH-60S Knighthawk was sitting on a high altitude ridge in very rugged terrain near the California-Nevada line on July 16 following a hard landing. The helicopter was supporting a search and rescue effort for a lost hiker. All four crewmembers survived without injury and were rescued the following day.
According to Frank, both the MH-60S Knighthawk unit and the Naval Safety Center had exhausted all other resources for recovery, including Army National Guard, Navy and Marine Corps fleet squadrons. «They all lacked the capability to lift the aircraft without an extensive disassembly», he said.
VMX-1’s CH-53K King Stallion detachment quickly examined the environmental conditions and conducted a quick feasibility assessment of support and determined that the CH-53K King Stallion could conduct the lift. The CH-53K King Stallion fulfills the heavy lift mission of the Marine Corps as it greatly expands the fleet’s ability to move equipment and personnel throughout its area of operations.
«After two weeks of exhaustive planning and assembling a team of more than 25 Marines and sailors from VMX-1 and 1st Landing Support Battalion from Camp Pendleton, California we deployed two CH-53Ks to Bishop, California, and got to work», he said.
The CH-53K King Stallion was designed to lift nearly 14 tons (27,000 lbs.) at a mission radius of 110 nautical miles/126.6 miles/203.7 km in high and hot environments; a capability that expands the service’s range in supporting joint and coalition forces against potential adversaries.
The MH-60S Knighthawk weighed approximately 15,200 lbs./6,894.6 kg and was positioned in a tight ravine at nearly 12,000’ MSL and needed to be transported over 23 nautical miles/26.5 miles/42.6 km to the Bishop, California airport.
«After six months of flight operations with the CH-53K King Stallion, the detachment had every confidence in the aircraft’s abilities to conduct the mission safely. Our main concern was the environmental factors ground support personnel would have to endure», said Frank.
«This is exactly what the K is made to do», he said. «Heavy lift is a unique and invaluable mission for the Marine Corps. Horsepower is our weapon system and the CH-53K King Stallion is armed to the teeth. The entire team of Marines at VMX-1, 1st Landing Support Battalion, and Naval Air Station (NAS) Fallon Search and Rescue were extremely motivated to execute this mission and we are all very proud to have completed this one flawlessly. To be the first group of professionals to complete a real-world, heavy lift/high altitude mission in support of a unit who thought all options were off the table is extremely rewarding», said Frank. «This is sure to be the first of what will be many, many successful missions for this aircraft and for heavy lift squadrons».
A contract to build nine CH-53K King Stallion helicopters with an additional contract option for nine more aircraft was awarded to Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company on June 25.
The Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Lot 5 contract will deliver nine aircraft in 2024 as part of a 200 aircraft program of record for the U.S. Marine Corps. The Lot 5 contract contains an option for Lot 6, for an additional nine aircraft with a contract award in FY22.
«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», said Colonel Jack Perrin, Program Manager, PMA-261 heavy lift helicopter program manager.
The Lot 5 contract is for $878.7 million, bringing the Sikorsky element of the aircraft cost of those nine aircraft to $97.6 million each. The Lot 6 aircraft cost reduces to $94.7 million each, for a Lot 6 total contract cost of $852.5 million. These costs do not include engine and other Government Furnished Equipment.
The FY21 Lot 5 and FY22 Lot 6 contracts represent an average unit airframe cost reduction of $7.4M from FY20 Lot 4 to FY22 Lot 6.
The program will start Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) in July 2021 and is poised to support the Marine Corps’ declaration of Initial Operational Capability. In preparation for commencement of IOT&E, three System Demonstration Test Article aircraft are currently being operated by Marine Corps’ Operational Test and Evaluation squadron, VMX-1, at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina.
«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», said Perrin.
The Lot 5 award brings the program total aircraft, either delivered or on contract, to 33.
Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company will build six additional production CH-53K King Stallion helicopters under a new contract for the U.S. Navy. The aircraft will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations.
The six helicopters are part of 200 aircraft Program of Record for the U.S. Marine Corps, and their addition makes a total of 24 CH-53K King Stallion production aircraft now under contract. Under the terms of this most recent contract – known as Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 4 – Sikorsky will begin deliveries of the six aircraft in January 2024.
«This contract award is a testament to the government’s confidence in the CH-53K platform. This award shows that we are working hard to make the aircraft more affordable», said Major General Greg Masiello, program executive office, air Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), assault and special mission programs. «The capability and affordability of the CH-53K is important to ensure that we provide a valuable addition to the United States Marine Corps and our friends and allies».
King Stallion Production Marches Ahead
The CH-53K King Stallion program has five aircraft on the line at Sikorsky facilities in Connecticut and over two dozen in various stages of production. The program will deliver the first low rate initial production aircraft in September 2021.
Sikorsky and its suppliers have made significant investments in facilities, machinery, tooling, and workforce training to ramp up production required for the CH-53K King Stallion program. For example, for the first time, newly installed 10-ton cranes lifted a 12,000 lbs./5,443 kg gearbox into a CH-53K King Stallion production aircraft.
«The production of this CH-53K helicopter represents a new era in capabilities, technologies, safety and mission flexibility for the U.S. Marine Corps. Sikorsky is committed to supporting the Marine Corps to maximize the benefits of this all new helicopter», said Bill Falk, Sikorsky CH-53K program director.
«Pilots are already training on state-of-the art flight training devices to prepare in a safe, cost-effective manner for operational deployment», Falk said.
CH-53K Proving Capabilities
The CH-53K King Stallion is also nearing the conclusion of the developmental flight test events in preparation for Initial Operational Test & Evaluation (IOT&E), having flown more than 2,000 flight hours validating the aircraft’s performance on a ship and in both hot and cold environments. This year, the aircraft completed:
Air-to-air refueling with an external load
Initial sea trials
Flight tests in extremely hot and dusty conditions at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona
Other accomplishments include:
Maximum weight single-point cargo hook sling load of 36,000 pounds/16,329 kilograms
Forward flight speed of over 150 knots/173 mph/278 km/h
60-degree angle-of-bank turns
Altitude of 18,500 feet/5,639 m Mean Sea Level (MSL)
A team of pilots and engineers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River recently completed a crucial series of sea trials of the CH-53K King Stallion that not only provided them with valuable developmental test information about the aircraft, but could change the way the squadron conducts similar tests in the future.
The test team of 96 personnel embarked on the USS Wasp (LHD-1) in early June to conduct an intensive series of tests that were designed to establish the helicopter’s performance envelope for day and night launches and recoveries at a wide range of wind speeds, to test engaging, disengaging, folding, and unfolding the rotors in a variety of wind conditions, and to allow maintenance crews from Sikorsky and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 to practice working on the aircraft in at-sea conditions.
«We went to sea with a robust test plan», said Maj Joshua «Felon» Foxton, CH-53K King Stallion sea trials project officer. «Typically, you include more test points than you can reasonably expect to accomplish, which gives us greater flexibility in executing the plan. But due largely to the success of the aircraft, we were able to accomplish all of our objectives while we were underway».
Over the course of the 14-day detachment, the team members who were embarked on Wasp accomplished just over 32 hours of flying, well over a third of which were flown at night. Altogether, the team achieved 364 landings, of which 74 were conducted using night vision devices. The team successfully launched and recovered to all spots, and was able to launch 13 sorties in the first eight days of ship-based maintenance.
Foxton praised the CH-53K’s performance, noting that the responsive and well-tuned fly-by-wire controls make shipboard landings much easier and more precise than is possible with many other helicopters. «It’s a real testament to the stability of the aircraft», Foxton said.
Lieutenant Colonel Fred «NOVAC» Neubert, department head and government lead test pilot for the CH-53K King Stallion program, agreed with Foxton’s assessment. «There may be other aircraft out there with similar performance capabilities, but I have not flown a helicopter with the outstanding handling qualities that the 53K provides», Neubert said.
The aircraft performed so well, in fact, that the test team succeeded in testing nearly all of the aircraft’s launch and recovery envelope expansion – the team’s primary test objective – within the first seven days of the trip, leaving the second week to thoroughly pursue the other objectives. As a result, the test team was able to devote more time to identifying refinements and minor improvements to suggest to the manufacturer than it otherwise would have had. Foxton recalled how, during one post-flight debriefing, one of the team’s veteran flight engineers pointed out, «Do you realize we just spent 15 minutes talking about whether we could improve the windshield wipers»?
«We were able to focus on those little things because the big things took care of themselves», Foxton said.
Teamwork was another major factor in the detachment’s success. «It can sometimes take weeks or months for a team to coalesce, but we had 14 days underway to forge a team», Foxton said. «Thanks to the professionalism of the contractors, our Marine counterparts in VMX-1, and our colleagues in the Navy, we were able to accomplish everything so thoroughly that we were actually ably to fly the aircraft off a day earlier than we had planned. That was inspiring».
Neubert and Foxton also had plenty of praise for the Wasp’s crew. «The crew was amazing», Foxton said. «They carefully negotiated winds and weather for us in order to get the ship in the exact position with the conditions we needed for every test point. Their true professionalism enabled all of our successes».
«One of the things that stands out about this detachment was the quality of the ship’s crew from the leadership on down, their commitment to figuring out a way to make it work no matter what we needed», Neubert said. «I think that reflects the command culture. The ship’s commanding officer, Captain Greg Baker, likes to get to ‘Yes.’ Every department embodied that mentality».
The envelope expansion testing that the team accomplished has resulted in the largest fleet envelope for any Navy and Marine Corps helicopter currently in existence, according to the squadron.
«I think this detachment is going to rewrite how we plan a test phase», Foxton said. «It’s an opportunity for us to find very specific efficiencies in our testing, which will in turn increase our speed to the fleet».
Neubert agreed. «In flight test, we specialize in risk mitigation and preparing for how we will respond to something that goes wrong», Neubert explained. «What we discovered in this test is that in the future, we’ll want to spend more time planning how we will we respond if something goes unexpectedly great».
«Our objective is to provide the fleet Marines with a safer and more effective platform with greater operational capability, and this detachment was a successful example of that», Neubert said. «This is why we do flight test – because we come from the fleet, and we want to give good products back to the fleet».