The Pentagon approved the US Navy’s Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion to enter its production and deployment phase this week, according to a Defense Department spokesman.

The US Marine Corps’ CH-53K was slated for a decision to launch low-rate initial production on 30 March, but Sikorsky and the US Navy’s programme manager for heavy lift helicopters would not comment on the decision during the annual Sea Air Space conference outside Washington this week. A senior official acting as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics approved the helicopter 4 April.

The USMC will replace its aging CH-53E with 200 King Stallions, with four early production aircraft scheduled for delivery this year. The US Navy has estimated the the aircraft's price at about $87 million per copy. Today, the CH-53E Super Stallion completes heavy lift operations for the Marine Corps.