Production Decision Expected Soon for Sikorsky’s CH-53K
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Marine Corps’ new heavy-lift helicopter is approaching a production decision by the Department of Defense, program officials said.
“The CH-53K is on track to transition into the fleet,” Marine Col. Henry Vanderborgt, the Navy’s program manager for the helicopter, told reporters April 3 at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition. “We are rapidly approaching the production phase.”
Vanderborgt declined to speak for the Defense Department specifically regarding a pending production decision.
Four Engineering and Manufacturing Development CH-53Ks have been flying in the test program in West Palm Beach, Fla., and have accumulated 430 flight hours. Also, the CH-53K Ground Test Vehicle has been extensively tested and eventually will be used for live fire testing at China Lake, Calif. Four System Test and Development Articles (SDTAs) are in production at West Palm Beach and will be used for the CH-53K’s operational evaluation.
Two more SDTA aircraft are under contract and will be the first CH-53Ks to be assembled at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Conn., facility, said Michael Torok, Sikorsky’s vice president for CH-53K programs. The six SDTA CH-53Ks are included in the Marine Corps requirement for 200 heavy-lift helicopters. The long-lead materials for the first two Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) helicopters have been under contract as well. LRIP is scheduled to begin in 2020.
Vanderborgt said that two sets of sea trials are planned for the CH-53K, mostly to test the dynamic interface with amphibious ships, including deck handling.
Sikorsky has been preparing and updating facilities in Stratford for the CH-53K production, including installation of new cranes and laying out the production line path, Torok said.
Vanderborgt said the estimated unit cost for a production CH-53K will be $87 million. He also said an extension of the current continuing resolution will not affect the test schedule for the CH-53K. The first sea trials are scheduled for 2018, but he said the program officials are trying to move up the time of the trials for risk-reduction purposes.