Sikorsky announces production of 12 CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters for the Marine Corps
By STEPHEN SINGER | The Hartford Courant | Published: May 20, 2019
HARTFORD, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — Sikorsky Aircraft has announced it will build 12 heavy-lift helicopters for the Marine Corps as part of a $1.1 billion U.S. Navy contract.
Sikorsky, the Stratford-based unit of defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., said Friday it will begin deliveries of the 12 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters in 2022 and also provide spare parts and logistical support.
The CH-53K is the only sea-based, long range, heavy-lift helicopter in production and will provide three times the lift capability of its predecessor, Sikorsky said. It will conduct expeditionary heavy-lift transport of armored vehicles, equipment and personnel to support operations inland from a sea-based center of operations.
Design deficiencies delayed testing and those helicopters may not be delivered to the Marine Corps until at least 2021, according to a Defense Department report.
Sikorsky program director Bill Falk said the contract demonstrates the U.S. Marine Corps’ "confidence in Sikorsky to expand production of this technologically advanced heavy lift helicopter.”
Members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation said they will “fight for additional funding” that makes possible high-skilled manufacturing jobs in Connecticut.
Bloomberg reported earlier this month that the Pentagon is assessing whether Boeing Co.'s heavy-lift helicopter for the Army, the CH-47 Chinook, could replace the King Stallion helicopter for some or all Marine Corps missions, according to officials.
Falk told Bloomberg he was aware of the review and was confident his company’s helicopter remains the Navy’s best choice. The Pentagon assessment was begun after an April 4 request from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe who cited continuing technical problems and delays with the $31 billion King Stallion program, Bloomberg reported.
Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and suppliers have made “significant investments” in facilities, machinery, tooling and workforce training to boost production for the CH-53K program, Sikorsky said. The helicopter manufacturer says it’s installed more than eight new titanium machining centers, designed and implemented a new final assembly test facility, installed 10-ton cranes, and now has 3D work instructions on the factory floor.
“We have transformed our factory for the future and implemented a model for all future helicopter programs,” said Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s program director.
The CH-53K, which can lift nearly 14 tons, has flown more than 1,400 test hours and has met all the outer reaches of testing, Sikorsky said.
In 2016, then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly approved a $220 million aid package for Sikorsky to keep the manufacturer where it started more than 85 years ago. The deal included a commitment by Sikorsky to build the CH-53K in Stratford.
The total cost, including development, tooling and research, was initially pegged at $29 billion for 200 helicopters, or $146 million each. At a maximum weight of 88,000 pounds, the CH-53K features powerful new engines, lightweight composite structures and computerized flight controls.
It will allow the Marine Corps and other international armed forces to move troops and equipment from ship to shore and to higher altitudes more quickly than previously.
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