The US government has made its first down payment for post-development, operational Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallions, with $25 million awarded to the Lockheed Martin-owned helicopter manufacturer last week for long-lead parts.

The US Marine Corps plans to acquire 200 CH-53K super-heavy-lift helicopters to replace its war-weary fleet of E-model Super Stallions for the transport of troops and heavy cargo into battle.

US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), which runs the development programme, says the money buys parts for six aircraft. The first low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot buys two aircraft and Lot 2 buys four.

NAVAIR says the Pentagon is scheduled to complete a "Milestone C" review of the CH-53K programme in the second quarter of 2017, which will authorise production of the first two aircraft in Lot 1.

Six aircraft are already being assembled as part of the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) programme, including two that are currently flying and four more ordered in 2013 to support operational evaluations and mission testing.


The Sikorsky CH-53K entered development in 2006 and first flew in October 2015


Despite some delays, the marines still aim to declare initial operational capability (IOC) with four CH-53Ks in 2019 and a full-rate production decision is expected in 2020.

“All acquisition programmes are facing budget pressures these days, so awarding this contract a few weeks after obtaining authorisation is a major win for the programme and Marine Corps aviation,” says USMC H-53 heavy-lift helicopters programme manager Col Hank Vanderborght. “This contract ensures the programme will have all required long lead materiel to begin building the LRIP 1 aircraft a year from now when the programme achieves Milestone C.”