NAVAIR PATUXENT RIVER, Md., Jan. 9, 2006 – A new heavy lift helicopter is now officially in the pipeline for the Marine Corps following a Dec. 22, 2005 decision by the Honorable. Kenneth R. Krieg, under secretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to authorize the Heavy Lift Replacement program here to begin a $4.4 billion development program for the aircraft.
A "Cost Plus Award Fee" contract for the System Development and Demonstration phase, estimated to be approximately $2.9 billion, is expected to be signed with Sikorsky in March 2006.
An Initial System Development and Demonstration contract worth $8.8 million to Sikorsky was signed January 3. A follow-on ISDD contract is expected in several weeks. An exact figure for that contract is not yet known.
The ISDD contracts cover continuing risk reduction efforts and sub-system selection (including cockpit, engines, fuselage, etc), while the SDD contract covers most aspects of research, design, test and evaluation efforts performed by Sikorsky for the new helicopter.
Fleet Marines should start receiving the first of 156 new marinized heavy lifters, to be called the CH-53K, in 2015. Which is none too soon for the program manager, Col. Paul Croisetiere.
Or the Marine Corps, which has been relying heavily on the aging CH-53E Super Stallion in the increasingly relevant heavy lift mission.
“Since the first Gulf War, Marine Corps vertical heavy lift has been getting further and further away from the original requirement it was developed to meet, a behind the lines logistics support aircraft,” Croisetiere explained.
“From the Scott O’Grady rescue mission in the Balkans to delivering critically needed combat support in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, we’re wearing out the aircraft because it has been in incredibly high demand since the mid 90s. The CH-53E has proven to be extraordinarily relevant to the execution of our national security strategy, Navy and Marine Corps warfighting concepts and the associated need for capable heavy lift,” he said.
Because the current aircraft has performed such yeoman service outside of the spotlight, it hasn’t been given the attention “squeakier wheels” in the Defense Department arsenal have over the years.
“We currently have an under-resourced fleet,” Croisetiere said. “In the 25 years it has been in service we have not had the investment necessary to effectively address obsolescence, reliability and maintainability issues. We also have a significant fatigue life issue looming. A Service Life Assessment Program conducted on the CH-53E determined that the service life is 6,120 flight hours based on the aircraft’s transition bulkhead section (location of the tailboom’s fold point). Based on our current and predicted usage rates, we anticipate the current fleet will start reaching this fatigue life limit in FY11 at a rate of up to 15 aircraft per year. Not only is this an expensive fix but it will require significantly increased management attention to ensure we have sufficient numbers of aircraft available to meet our operational commitments."
“We have to start now if we’re going to have new CH-53Ks on the flight line ready for tasking when we start parking the Echoes,” Croisetiere stated.