The Israeli air force has in recent months re-emphasised its urgent need to acquire a replacement for an ageing fleet of Sikorsky CH-53H "Yasur" helicopters. The service has expressed its operational need to introduce the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, but budget restrictions have delayed a contract, and sources note the tiltrotor will not replace the heavy-lift capabilities provided by the CH-53.

Until a replacement can be acquired, the air force's 22 maintenance unit is tasked with keeping the air force's upgraded rotorcraft in operational condition. It last year completed an extensive upgrade project which will extend their service lives until at least 2025.

Launched in 2006, the modernisation activity included full structure treatment and the installation of new avionics and other systems that relate directly to the variety of the missions the CH-53 performs for Israel.

CH-53 - Israel Defence Force

Israel Defence Force

"As long as there is no replacement in our bases, we have to keep this special machine working," says the head of the unit's engineering division, identified only as Lt Col M. "For that we developed a series of tests and processes that were not available elsewhere," he adds. This process involves the manufacture of spare parts that are no longer available from other sources, and additional processes which he says are aimed at enabling the CH-53s to perform their special missions.

One potential replacement for the Yasur fleet is the new CH-53K being developed for the US Marine Corps. The Israeli air force has expressed its interest in the type, and is following its development closely.