Lockheed Martin on Tuesday announced the CH-53K King Stallion is ready for low rate initial production. The Pentagon is looking to buy at least 200 of these heavy lift helicopters, which at a unit price of 85 million USD is almost as costly as the F-35.
Aircraft maturity has been established with well over 400 flight hours achieved, Lockheed Martin reports. An initial Operational Assessment by the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in October 2016 fully established the ability of the King Stallion to achieve critical mission flight and ground scenarios in the hands of active duty Marines.
The CH-53K King Stallion provides heavy lift capability with three times the lift of the CH-53E that it replaces. With more than triple the payload capability and a 12-inch wider internal cabin compared to the predecessor, the King Stallion’s payload has increased significantly in size and volume. The CH-53K also offers enhanced safety features, including full authority fly-by-wire flight controls and mission management that reduce pilot workload and enable the crew to focus on mission execution. Other features include advanced stability augmentation, flight control modes that include attitude command-velocity hold, automated approach to a stabilized hover, position hold and precision tasks in degraded visual environments, and tactile cueing that all permit the pilot to focus on the mission at hand.
Further, the CH-53K King Stallion has improved reliability and maintainability that exceeds 89 percent mission reliability with a smaller shipboard logistics footprint than the legacy CH-53E.
The US Department of Defense’s need remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft, Lockheed Martin claims. The first six of the 200 are under contract and scheduled to start delivery next year to the USMC. Two additional aircraft, the first LRIP aircraft, are under long lead procurement for parts and materials, with deliveries scheduled to start in 2020.
The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.