An Update on the CH-53K: April 2019


Recent reports on USNI News provide updates on progress on the CH-53K program.

According to an article by Megan Eckstein published on April 10, 2019, a production contract is imminent between the USMC and Lockheed Martin.

At a recent hearing before the Senate Armed Services Seapower Committee, both Navy Acquisition Chief, James Geurts and the Deputy Commandant of Aviation, Lt. General Rudder highlighted progress in the program.

Geurts told USNI News after the hearing that “what we’ve been able to achieve with the contractor, who brings great talent and capability, is a shared risk and shared reward. And so when we worked with them on restructuring the program, we wanted to balance the risk and balance the reward. As this program continues to work through the restructure and become successful, there’s opportunities to continue to enhance our abilities there: as we find risk, we need to be able to share those risks.”

He told lawmakers the department and Lockheed Martin are in the final stages of the contract negotiations and would sign a contract in a matter of weeks.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, the deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation, said at the same hearing that the capability of the aircraft was just what the Marine Corps needed to support future warfare concepts such as Distributed Maritime Operations and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations.

“There’s no other helicopter in the world that has lifted 36,000 pounds; can take this 100-mile ship-to-shore (flight) with 27,000 pounds, at 100 miles, and go back and forth all day long,” Rudder said.

“Now we need to fix deficiencies: some are seat cushions, the hand-holds; the engine gas re-ingestion. And the vendor and the program office are going to fix these, and we’re going to hold them accountable to fix it,” he continued.
“But if we look at the future of what this nation is going to have to do with the [National Defense Strategy] and distributed operations, you’re going to need logistics; you’re going to need heavy lift because we’re going to be distributed, we’re going to be eating a lot of gas, using up a lot of ordnance; and this is going to be the ship-to-shore connector that’s going to do it for us. There’s nothing else out there in the inventory.”

And in an April 6, 2019 article by Megan Eckstein, the reporter highlighted the testimony of Lt. General Rudder before the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee.

The Marines’ top aviator said the new CH-53K heavy lift helicopter has had some struggles during its past year of testing but would emerge from it a capable and reliable asset for the Marines.

Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee on Thursday that last year the service moved the Lockheed Martin-built CH-53K King Stallion from Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach test facility to Naval Air Station Patuxent River for a strenuous test plan.

“We put it through its paces. We brought it out to Colorado and did high-altitude testing; we banged it around in the dirt out there, and we found some things. And we found some things because good Marine test pilots and the naval enterprise found things that needed to be fixed. So the delays that you see right now are to make sure we get it right,” he said.

USNI News previously reported that the discovery of an “exhaust gas re-ingestion” issue in the engine, along with other deficiencies, slowed the testing – which was already behind schedule due to having too few aircraft and not all test flights counting towards program requirements.

To compensate for the ongoing bill of the developmental testing, and to allow for concurrency management between testing and production, the Marines asked to buy just six aircraft in their Fiscal Year 2020 budget request rather than the planned nine.

As the Marines seek to move into procurement while still working out those deficiencies and finishing up the test program, Rudder said, “we’re endeavoring right now to enter into a contract that addresses all the deficiencies as well as any new deficiencies as part of the delivery of that aircraft.”

The featured photo: PENSACOLA, Fla. (March 22, 2019) Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, deputy commandant for aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps, center, discussing the current state of Marine Corps aviation with Naval Air Technical Training Center students. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ian Loomis/Released)