Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky is still pursuing a sale of its CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter to Germany, despite Berlin recently opting for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook instead.
Speaking at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space (SAS) conference near Washington DC on 3 April, Connecticut-based Sikorsky executives said the company is pursuing foreign military sales to at least 15 potential customers.
“They all are in various states of progress,” says Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s CH-53K programme director.
Falk showed a presentation detailing the countries Sikorsky is currently pursuing for CH-53K sales. These include India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the UK and others across Europe and the Middle East.
Notably, the list includes the German air force, which in June 2022 selected the CH-47 over the CH-53K to replace its fleet of CH-53G Sea Stallions. Germany currently operates 81 of the ageing rotorcraft, according to Cirium data.
The type made its first flight in 1964 for the US Marine Corps (USMC).
The USMC and Israel are currently the only customers for the latest CH-53K model: Israel is under contract to acquire 12, while the USMC plans to purchase 200. The US service has nine of the type in operation and last December declared the programme ready for full production.
The CH-53K is taking on increased importance at Sikorsky, which produces the King Stallion at its flagship facility in Stratford, Connecticut. The Lockheed Martin subsidiary is preparing for the expected end to new orders of the iconic UH-60 Black Hawk.
Sikorsky recently lost its bid to produce the US Army’s next-generation Future Long-range Assault Aircraft. Lockheed has challenged that win by Bell, alleging inconsistencies in the army’s assessment process.
Falk did not elaborate on the status of talks with Germany regarding a possible CH-53K buy but implied a deal remains possible.
In announcing its decision for the Chinook in June, the German defence ministry described the tandem-rotor craft as “modern, proven and already being used by NATO partners”.
In addition to the USA, NATO members operating CH-47s include Canada, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and the UK.
The King Stallion boasts a greater load capacity than most operational Chinooks. With three GE Aerospace T408 turboshafts – each rated at 7,500shp (5,520kW) – the CH-53K is capable of lifting an external load weighing approximately 12,000kg (27,000lb).
By comparison, the CH-47F Block I model has a useful load of 10,886kg, according to Boeing figures.
However, the company notes the latest Block II configuration of the Chinook, which the German deal covers, has a useful load of 12,700kg. That puts it just ahead of the CH-53K.
The CH-53K’s heavy lift status was put to the test in 2021, when one evacuated a crashed US Navy (USN) Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk from high in the mountains of California. Navy officials determined no other aircraft from the USN, USMC or US Army had sufficient lift to remove the 6,895kg load at an elevation of 3,658m (12,000ft).
Sikorsky says the King Stallion represents a significant improvement over its predecessor, first fielded in 1988, boasting 57% more horsepower and 63% fewer parts.
The type is also the first digitally designed and fully fly-by-wire helicopter in the USMC inventory.
Story updated 7 April to include useful payload figures for the CH-47 Block II.