The US Marines Corps will receive an additional six (6) Sikorsky CH-53K heavy lift helicopters, with delivery date set to early 2024. This latest $500 million order issued by the Department of Defense to the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company on October 26th, will cover the procurement of the new build helicopters as part of the Lot IV Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) procurement program phase.
With the first delivery of a CH-53K King Stallion to the US Marines having taken place on May 16, 2018, procurement scheduled had allocated funding for another three (3) aircraft in 2018 followed by another seven (7) in 2019.
The US Marines Corps has a requirement for up to 200 CH-53K King Stallion that are due to gradually replace some two hundreds (200) legacy CH-53E Super Stallion models.
The latest CH-53K variant is the latest design iteration of a legendary aircraft which has dominated the helicopter-borne heavy lift mission requirements for several decades.
Building on the three engines (3) configuration (instead of two (2)) introduced by the CH-53E variant, the CH-53K is powered by three new General Electric T-408 engines, which deliver more power and fuel economy than the T-64 engines fitted on the CH-53E. With 57% more engine horsepower than the CH-53E, the CH-53K offers almost triple the load carrying capability of its predecessor. In facts the CH-53K is designed to accommodate every piece of equipment listed in the US Marines Corps missions’ inventory. This includes armoured and light armoured vehicle such as the HMMWVs, the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) Gen II, or dual Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTV). The rear facing loading ramp and the enlarged cabin (12 in / 30 cm wider cabin) have been introduced for such purpose along with the external three-hooks sling load attachment system mounted underneath the fuselage.
This mechanisms allows a payload of 36,000 lbs (16,300 kg) at the center point, and 25,200 lbs (11,400 kg) at each of the forward and rear hooks.
Compared to previous variants, the CH-53K adds another touch of cargo-carrying versatility as it has been adapted to carry the 463L pallet loading system internally. This allows the new helicopter to integrate well with multi-modal cargo operations involving aircraft alongside other assets.
In normal troop carrying configuration, the CH-53K sits 32 on crashworthy-designed seats. This can potentially be augmented to 55 when centrally mounted seats are fitted onto the aircraft.
Operating at speeds up to 170 knots (or 315 km/h), the aircraft is operated from a fully digital glass cockpit operating a triple redundant fly-by-wire controls. In attempt to minimise maintenance operations, the CH-53K has been fitted with a fully integrated vehicle health management system. With 63% less components in its engines and the use of more resistant composite rotor blades, the design may achieve high level of maintainability.