The Israeli air force is to conduct a second major upgrade to its Sikorsky CH-53 assault helicopter fleet, under a programme intended to extend the type's operational life until 2025.

Focusing mainly on the aircraft's flight control systems and fuselage, the modernisation programme will address a number of issues that have caused the air force to temporarily halt operations of the 30-year-old aircraft. The service's transport helicopter department says the first prototype of the upgraded CH-53 will be ready in 2006, with the programme scheduled for completion by 2010.

Israel's fleet of around 40 CH-53s has previously undergone an avionics upgrade, and has recently received other operational enhancements. The air force last year launched high-altitude trials of the type to demonstrate its ability to conduct communications-relay and electronic warfare missions, achieving a maximum altitude of 18,000ft (8,160m). It has also modified the aircraft to carry up to eight Nimrod laser-guided missiles. Developed by Israel Aircraft Industries' MBT division, the weapon has an effective range of over 20km (11nm).

Source: Flight International