On Wednesday, the Marine Corps took delivery of their first CH-53K King Stallion, the long awaited replacement for the branch’s troubled fleet of CH-53E Super Stallions. The new helicopter has the same basic footprint as its predecessor, but boasts the largest lift capacity of any helicopter ever to serve in the American armed forces — and comes at a unit price comparable to that of another Lockheed project, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Development began on the Super Stallion back in 2006, with plans in place to see the first King Stallions reach initial operational capability (IOC) by 2015. Setbacks and delays saw that deadline pushed back repeatedly, with one report earlier this year suggesting that nearly 1,000 deficiencies remained unaddressed in the platform.

A separate report with similar findings from the Government Accountability Office read,

Persistent problems with the [CH-53K’s] main gearbox have required the program to delay the planned completion of system-level demonstration tests by four months – now scheduled to be completed in May 2019. Program officials reported that since the latest redesign, the program has successfully tested the main gearbox.”

However, the Marine Corps called those reports outdated in April of this year following a flight demonstration of the King Stallion.

“You saw the CH-53K fly [during the ILA Airshow in late April]. Did it look like a helicopter that has a thousand problems with it?” the USMC’s program manager for the CH-53-series, Colonel Hank Vanderborght, responded to reporters.

What may be more bad news for the King Stallion, which is being produced by Sikorski (a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin), are plans to postpone operational testing of the platform until after it reaches that IOC date — a strategy that has resulted in expensive issues with the F-35 program. In effect, Sikorski will continue to produce King Stallions before any of the helicopters undergo testing and evaluation, which means any issues identified throughout the testing process will need to be addressed in however many King Stallions are already built by the time an issue is identified and a solution has been determined.

This strategy, while theoretically could result in getting more aircraft into the fight sooner, has played a significant role in nearly half of all delivered F-35s being deemed unworthy of operational status, pending extensive (and expensive) repairs and refits. If the King Stallion proves as troubled, it could spell disaster for the Marine Corps’ plans to replace their aging, and often failing, CH-53E Super Stallions.