After surviving both a budget freeze by the US Navy and a termination threat by lawmakers, the US Marine Corps has been approved to start the $4.2 billion development phase for the Heavy Lift Rotorcraft (HLR) fleet.

The go-ahead from the Department of Defense last month allows Sikorsky to start advanced development of the HLR, formerly known as CH-53X, which is to replace the ageing Sikorsky CH-53E with 156 newer models able to lift 12,260kg (27,000lb). The aircraft is to enter service in 2015.

Sikorsky has launched an engine contest to be decided this year. Candidates include the Rolls-Royce AE1107C that also powers the USMC’s Bell Boeing MV-22 tiltrotors, the General Electric GE38, the Honeywell T55-715B and the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW150.

The HLR programme has slipped more than a year behind schedule, but has apparently survived high-level concerns over both the budget and acquisition strategy.

The USN’s acquisition leadership froze the programme’s funding in December 2004 after an initial cost estimate for the development phase ballooned by $1 billion. In June, the House of Representatives approved language in a budget bill that would have required the USMC to drop the HLR and merge its CH-53E replacement strategy with the US Army’s proposed Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) programme.

Since November, the USN has accepted an $800 million cost growth for the development phase of the programme. Lawmakers also dropped objections to HLR being service specific. Legislation passed in December upholds support for a combined joint heavylift rotorcraft programme, but also exempts the HLR from the law.


Source: Flight International