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USMC declares initial operational capability for CH-53K King Stallion

The CH-53K underwent cold weather testing as part of the IOC process. (Sikorsky)

The US Marine Corps (USMC) declared an initial operational capability (IOC) for Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter on 25 April.

The Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1 conducted the developmental and operational testing needed for IOC. The service flew more than 3,000 flight hours over various terrain and in cold and hot environments. The testing included day to night air-to-air refuelling, live fire testing, sea trials with more than 350 landings, and testing in degraded visual environment conditions at US Army Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, according to Lockheed Martin.

The CH-53K will replace the USMC's CH-53E Super Stallion. The CH-53K can carry an external load of up to 27,000 lbs over 110 n miles, while its predecessor can carry 9,628 lbs over the same distance, according to the USMC. The helicopter is designed to meet the USMC's ‘ship-to-shore‘ heavy vertical-lift requirement.

After completing IOC, the helicopter can enter full-rate production. A production decision is expected in 2023. The USMC plans to deploy the first CH-53K Marine Expeditionary Unit detachment in fiscal year 2024.

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