The US Navy (USN) is to begin negotiations with Sikorsky for the low-rate initial production (LRIP) of the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter, the service disclosed on 8 January.
According to a notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website, Lots 1 and 2 will be negotiated for two and four LRIP helicopters respectively. The intended contract will be initially issued as an Advance Acquisition Contract (AAC) in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 for long-lead items in support of the subsequent production buys.
The announcement of the imminent commencement of LRIP negotiations follows the official roll-out of the CH-53K in May 2014. The operational evaluation (OPEVAL) phase of the programme is expected to begin in early-2017, with the first of an expected 200 production helicopters due to be delivered to the US Marine Corps (USMC) from about 2019.
Although about the same size as the CH-53E currently in service, the CH-53K is promoted as being able to lift nearly triple the external payload. Other enhancements include a 'glass cockpit', fly-by-wire flight controls, upgraded rotor blades to improve lift and speed performance, a low-maintenance rotorhead, more powerful engines, a locking cargo rail system, external cargo-handling improvements, as well as survivability upgrades. Operation and support costs should also be much lower than is currently the case with the older model helicopters.
|News that LRIP negotiations for the CH-53K are about to begin will come as a welcome fillip to officials given the delays that have beset the programme.|
Under the original schedule, Sikorsky had intended that the first flight would take place in mid-2011. This was delayed to 2014, and is now expected to occur later in 2015. Initial operating capability, which was originally scheduled for 2015, will not now occur until 2019 at the earliest.
In addition to the delays, costs for the programme have risen by several billion, although it should be noted that much of this increase was caused by the US government's decision to increase its planned production orders to accommodate USMC growth.
Despite such issues, the CH-53K will be a highly effective heavy-lift helicopter for the USMC when it does enter service, and Sikorsky can be confident of securing export orders with current CH-53 operators, such as Germany and Japan.