The US Defense Department has partnered with the Israeli government in procuring 169 units of the latest General Electric T408 turboshaft engine to support both armed forces’ CH-53K ‘King Stallion’ heavy-lift cargo helicopter fleet.

General Electric Aviation, a subsidiary of General Electric, was granted a contract worth $683.7 million per a notice posted last Wednesday, April 26.

According to the contract, General Electric will produce the T408 engines in three successive stages, each accounting for ongoing upgrades and developments, in three continued configurations. The first configuration, Lot 8, will consist of 65 engines, with the US Navy (USN) ordering 54 and Israel ordering 11. The second configuration, Lot 7, will produce 51 T408 engines, of which 39 will be for USN and 12 for Israel. Finally, the third configuration, Lot 6, will have 53, with 36 and 17, respectively.

T408 turboshaft engine
T408 turboshaft engine (Image source: GE Aerospace)

Besides the production, the deal will also include funding for other support services, such as programmatic and logistics, and initiatives aimed at reducing costs. In addition, the overall assembly of the T408 engines will be performed at General Electric’s facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, and is expected to be completed in June 2027.

T408 Engine: Cost-efficient, Enhanced Performance

General Electric’s T408 is the latest and most advanced variant of its CH-53K engine, offering significant performance improvements of about 57 percent more power than its predecessor.

Accordingly, it generates up to 7,500 shaft horsepower and boasts cutting-edge technology and modern design innovations that cranks up the mission capability of a rotorcraft. It uses advanced materials and manufacturing techniques to reduce weight and increase durability. Furthermore, it has a modular design that enables more manageable maintenance and upgrades—additionally, a more fuel-efficient capable of reducing operational costs and improving the helicopter’s range and endurance.

Once fitted, the T408 engine enhances a CH-53K helicopter’s external payload capacity by up to 13.5 tons (27,000 pounds) over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles (126.6 miles) in extreme weather conditions. That’s nearly triple the current capabilities of a CH-53E ‘Super Stallion’ aircraft.

The CH-53K King Stallion
CH-53K King Stallion (Image source: DVIDS)

Its technical specifications are impressive, increasing the reliability and high performance of the heavy-lift cargo. It has a maximum speed of 165 knots (190 mph), capable of covering significant distances within a short time frame. The engine has a range of 460 nautical miles (530 miles) and a service ceiling of approximately 14,500 feet (4,420 meters), making it suitable for various missions. Moreover, its Time Before Overhaul (TBO) is around 6,000 hours, so the engine can go through multiple flights without requiring significant maintenance.

Incoming Workhorse

In Early 2021, Israel became one of the first international customers of the Sikorsky CH-53K helicopter as part of its ongoing efforts to modernize its armed forces and increase its strategic capabilities. The country picked the sophisticated heavy-lift rotorcraft to replace its aging CH-53D ‘Yasur’ chopper, which has been in service since the 1960s.

CH-53K’s ability to transport heavy payloads over long distances and operate in various environments makes it a valuable asset for its military operations, disaster relief, and humanitarian mission efforts—not to mention its cost-effectiveness.

The timeline and the number of units are yet to be released as the development of the latest CH-53 variant continues, with its full operational capability expected sometime within this decade.

Meanwhile, the Navy and US Marine Corps plan to supplant the CH-53K over its aging fleet of CH-53E, which has been in service since the 1980s.

The development program for the CH-53K kickstarted in the early-to-mid 2000s, with Sikorsky (now a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin) as its primary contractor.

In March 2021, the Navy announced that the heavy-lift rotorcraft had completed its initial operational test and evaluation phase with Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina. Earlier this year, it had accomplished its second set of sea trials aboard the USS Arlington (LPD-24) in the Atlantic Ocean, including five full days and nights of envelope expansion testings in a modern naval environment. Moreover, during the test, the CH-53K performed tasks such as launch and recovery, rotor star and shutdown, and shipboard compatibility testing in severe weather conditions and challenging scenarios.

The recent progress indicated a promising future for the latest heavy-lift helicopter, moving its expected entry service by 2029.

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What can we take from this? The partnership between the US and Israel to procure the latest T408 turboshaft engine is a significant step forward in modernizing both countries’ heavy-lift cargo helicopter fleets. As mentioned, the engine’s enhanced performance and cost-efficiency make it a valuable asset for various missions, from military operations to disaster relief and humanitarian efforts, as both countries look into replacing their respective aging heavy-lift aircraft fleet. With promising progress in testing and evaluation, the CH-53K’s full operational capability is expected within this decade, providing advanced capabilities and versatility for the US military’s heavy-lift requirements.

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