After years of development from the CH-53 series of helicopters, the formidable Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion now meets its larger and heavier younger brother, the CH-53K King Stallion.

The King has arrived, and the King will rise to the skies. The King Stallion helicopter built by Sikorsky is known as the most powerful helicopter the United States has ever had in its fleet, which has three times the lift capability of the CH-53E Super Stallion.

Yes, the CH-53 series has served the United States military branches valiantly throughout the years. Still, as technology advances and more challenges arise, the King Stallion comes with an answer with its wider cabin and a capacity of over 27,000 pounds (30,000 at maximum capacity) versus its predecessor, which can only carry 9,628 pounds. Yup, they look the same, but the King Stallion hauls much heavier cargo, making it the Pentagon’s go-to helicopter.

The US Marine Corps (USMC) will definitely have loads of fun playing with their new set of toys, more importantly, serving the vital needs of the Marines during missions. With that, the USMC has designated its first operational unit for the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion. The Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, also known as the “Ironhorse” squadron, stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina, has been redesignated as the first unit to officially field the CH-53K unit, saying goodbye to its old but equally formidable set of CH-53E Super Stallions. It falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 29 (MAG-29) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).

Brig. Gen. Glenn M. Walters stands with the eight awardees from Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 461 during an awards ceremony, at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 23 (DVIDS). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/381744/hmh-461-marines-rewarded-extraordinary-lift
Brig. Gen. Glenn M. Walters stands with the eight awardees from Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 461 during an awards ceremony at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, March 23 (DVIDS)

They won’t be alone in the transition, though, a transition that will be completed in 2030. They are one of eight aviation units to add the new aircraft with two reserve squadrons and two developmental test squadrons. The rest of the 2nd Marine Air Wing will follow in the transition. It has been reported that the 1st, 3rd, and 4th MAWs are also transitioning to the use of the King Stallion.

“While sad to see the beginning of the phase-out of the venerable Super Stallion, Sikorsky is thrilled the Marine Corps is introducing the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter into the fleet and is moving one step closer to initial operational capability (IOC) and first deployment,” said Sikorsky’s CH-25K Program Director Bill Falk to the Marine Corps Times.

The launching of the new aircraft has been well-awaited and well-deserved by the Marine Corps, which has been in development since 2006. It was reportedly one of the Pentagon’s most expensive projects, costing the American taxpayers over $31 billion in initial costs.

But, quality has a price tag. A very high price tag. According to a report by Bloomberg, the King Stallion’s cost has ballooned over the years, costing $144 million per unit in 2017. Yup, it’s going to cost more than the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter at $80 million per unit as of 2021. But it’s important to note that the operating costs of the F-35 aren’t cheap too. It reportedly costs $36,000 every hour it flies, making it tremendously arduous to maintain. However, Lockheed Martin has stated that it would reduce operating costs to around $25,000 per hour by 2025.

The program hasn’t always been a success. It was also plagued by its own operational and mechanical issues such as rotor gearbox reliability, tail boom, and rotor structure problems, to name a few. However, it has been said that the cost of the aircraft will decrease as it enters full-scale production at $100 million per unit – still very much higher by $20 million compared to the F-35.

Is it going to be worth it? There is a tremendous amount of evidence that it will be worth the investment as it would be very much used as the workhorse of the Marines or any branch of the military if it gets procured for them. Aside from the fact that it can haul 27,000 pounds (36,000 pounds maximum external lift), its engine was reportedly able to produce 57% more horsepower with 63% fewer parts than its predecessor. It can reportedly carry a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) to a Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) and almost anything in between.

The helicopter can definitely be at the forefront of supplying the Marines with new equipment on the battlefield and transporting them wherever they are deployed. It can even fit a Humvee within its fuselage!

CH-53K unloading a Humvee (Lockheed Martin). Source: https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/products/sikorsky-ch-53k-helicopter.html
CH-53K unloading a Humvee (Lockheed Martin)

On February 3, the Marine Corps is getting another 9 King Stallions at a lower price from Sikorsky. These nine aircraft are part of the 200 aircraft procurement program for the US Marine Corps, where deliveries begin in 2025. This new purchase will definitely help the US Marine Corps with their missions for heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, weapons, and military personnel. Sikorsky has stated that there are currently 7 CH-53 aircraft in building stages, with 47 more units on the way. Five of these have been delivered to the US Marine Corps in Jacksonville, North Carolina, with four more units coming this year.

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