As part of its plan to improve capabilities and restructure its aviation for future fights, the U.S. Marine Corps announced the initial operational capability for its CH-53 King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters.
According to the U.S. Navy's website, the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters have been the workhorse of the U.S. Marine Corps. Built by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, the CH-53E is powered by three T64-GE-416 engines with a top speed of 150 knots (172 mph) and an operational ceiling of 10,000 feet.
Evaluation testing of CH-53K
After more than three decades in service, Super Stallions are scheduled to be replaced by the CH-53K King Stallions. As part of their evaluation, Sikorsky built four system demonstration helicopters and delivered them to Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1) in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
In a press release earlier this month, Lockheed Martin said that King Stallions completed its Initial Operational Test & Evaluation test vignettes (IOT&E) after a seven-month evaluation period. During this period, the aircraft was tested at sea with over 350 landings and air-to-air refueling conducted during the day and at night. Additionally, refueling was successfully carried with a 27,000-lb external load.
The CH-53K is optimized for vertical, heavy lifts and can carry one hundred percent of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, according to a Marine Corps announcement. It is also designed to deliver three times the lift capacity of the CH-53E with an engine that delivers 57 percent more horsepower with 63 percent fewer parts.
The CH-53K is also designed to operate in a degraded aeronautical environment such as higher altitudes and hotter climates and is also equipped to carry up to 27,000 pounds out to 110-nautical miles. During the evaluation period, the aircraft flew for over 3,000 hours, including in challenging environments, without any mishap.
"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 Lt. Gen Mark Wise, Deputy Commandant for Aviation at the Marine Corps.
Following the announcement, the Marine Corps is on its way to deploying the first CH-53K Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2024 as it looks to deploy over 200 of these aircraft in the coming years. Apart from the Marines, Israel has placed an order for 46 of the aircraft.