CH-53K King Stallion, with a price of more than $100 million each, has become the world’s most expensive helicopter recently commissioned in the US Marine Corps. The Corps took delivery of its first CH-53 King Stallion heavy lift helicopter at the New River air station in North Carolina in May 2018.
The CH-53K is one of the most powerful helicopters across the Defense Department and has twice the lift capacity of its predecessor, the CH-53E. The CH-53E version operating on US Marines’ amphibious assault ships, is still a key force in transport missions, ground and sea attacks. However, the US still seems to be dissatisfied with the CH-53E and decided to create a new version of CH-53K with outstanding features. With the cost of the entire project up to 25 billion USD, the US military plans to produce and put into use 200 CH-53K King Stallion to replace the old variant aircraft. The program was criticized as too expensive for a helicopter whose main task was to transport, it was even more expensive than the first-class American fighter, the F-35.
The CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement, previously known as the CH-53X Super Stallion, has been the planned follow on to the Marine Corps CH-53E Heavy Lift Helicopter since 2003. The CH-53K is a general redesign of the CH-53E, the main improvements are new engines and cockpit layout.
The CH-53K will use three General Electric T408 engines rated at 7,500 shaft horsepower each and will be able to fly 20 knots faster than its CH-53E predecessor. The helicopter has a cruise speed of 170 knots, 110 nautical mile combat radius, operating range with internal fuel 460 nautical mile.
The CH-53K would maintain virtually the same footprint as the existing CH-53E, but would nearly double the payload to 27,000 pounds over 110 nautical miles under high ambient conditions. A wider cargo hold to allow it to carry a Humvee internally. The CH-53K’s maximum gross weight would increase to 84,700 pounds versus 73,000 pounds for the CH-53E. One of the more appealing capabilities of the CH-53K would be its performance in mountainous areas in hot day conditions. The cabin is fitted with folding canvas seats along the sides in normal configuration to seat. The cabin is equipped with a hydraulically operated rear ramp for loading freight and it can hold up to seven standard pallets. Additionally, the CH-53K would be capable of carrying a normal load of 32 combat loaded troops, with a maximum capacity of 48 troops. The retractable tricycle-type landing gear consists of three twin-wheeled units. The main units retract into the rear of the sponsons.
It will feature a new digital glass cockpit with fly-by-wire controls and haptic feedback, Health and usage monitoring systems, a new elastomeric hub system, and composite rotor blades to improve “hot and high” performance. Internally, the CH-53K will continue to be crewed by three personnel – two pilots seated side-by-side at the cockpit and a crew chief responsible for payloads. Optional crew can include a portside machine gunner and rear-facing tail machine gunner – the latter set at the open cargo bay door.
The CH-53K will also include an improved external cargo handling system, survivability enhancements, and improvements to extend service life. The cabin will be 30ft long by 9ft wide by 6.5ft tall. Its cabin will be 15% wider than CH-53E. The CH-53K can carry two 463L master pallets, eliminating the need to break apart pallets between airlifter and helicopter.
The King Stallion can extend its range and endurance through in-flight refuelling. The helicopter is fitted with a forward extendable in-flight refuelling probe and it can also hoist hose refuel from a surface ship whilst in hover mode.
The only original armament on a CH-53K was two 12.7mm machine guns mounted in the windows on the sides of the helicopter. These could only cover the front and most of the sides, leaving the rear exposed. A ramp-mounted weapon system has been developed and evaluated by the US Marine Corps. The weapon is a M3M/GAU-21 12.7mm reduced-recoil machine gun soft-mounted on the ramp, which can be removed and installed in less than two minutes.
While the old version, the CH-53E, was just barely too thin to hold a Humvee in its fuselage, the new helicopters seem to be able to do more than that. The new CH-53K King Stallion certainly seems to be an excellent iterative development of this combat-tested and combat-proven platform.
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The United States is currently the only executive of CH-53K. King Stallion is receiving great attention from some foreign customers. In February 2018, Sikorsky signed an agreement valued at around 4 billion euro with Rheinmetall to team up for the German Air Force’s CH-53G heavy lift helicopter replacement program, in which the CH-53K is competing against the CH-47F Chinook offered by Boeing. Israel and Japan are also showing interest in CH-53K.