Cockpit and engine selection for the newly approved US Marine Corps Heavy Lift Helicopter Replacement (HLR) programme has begun in earnest, although the field of competitors already reflects the project’s key changes in strategy as it has evolved over six years.
Formerly named the CH-53X, the HLR effort seeks to build around 155 aircraft to replace the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion fleet after 2015. The USMC originally planned to receive approval to launch a system development and demonstration phase in late 2004, but this was delayed until last month after cost and acquisition strategy concerns were raised. The company on 3 January received an $8.4 million contract to conduct initial design work in support of the HLR project until January 2008.
The programme’s original goals focused on achieving a high-degree of commonality with other subsystems in the USMC’s active inventory. This drove speculation that the Rolls-Royce AE1107C engine family – installed on the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor and Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules tanker – would be the most likely contender. R-R has claimed that the MV-22’s AE1107C would be up to 95% identical to the HLR engine.
However, the USMC has now turned over the propulsion decision to Sikorsky. Company executives have bristled about the concept of simply selecting the AE1107C based on commonality, and at one point suggested that the HLR’s selected engine could instead be retrofitted on the MV-22 fleet.
Additional contenders for the HLR’s estimated 6,000shp (4,500kW) powerplant include upgraded variants of the General Electric T64, Honeywell T55 and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150.
The open competition strategy appears to extend to the cockpit selection process. Sikorsky has been given authority by the USMC to decide and has issued a request for proposals that includes a rare standard for a firm fixed-price contract on a cockpit integration project. Commonality does not appear to be a high priority, although the USMC is already buying Northrop Grumman Integrated Avionics Systems for its Bell AH-1Z SuperCobra attack helicopters.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC