The program office overseeing the Corps’ most powerful heavy lift helicopter, the CH-53 King Stallion, wants to put together a cost reduction team to help make the aircraft more affordable.
In early May, Naval Air Systems Command, or NAVAIR, awarded Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, a contract for $4,494,545 to create a cost reduction team working on the CH-53K.
The contract was “for the procurement of support to establish initiative metrics, identify cost reduction ideas, and define and reports status on projects including opportunities to improve aircraft build schedule and maintainability,” according to the posting on the government’s business opportunities website.
The Corps’ latest helicopter has come under criticism for its steep costs. Estimates have shown the heavy lift helicopter to cost as much as $138 million per aircraft.
And in September, when NAVAIR officials announced the first contract for two low rate initial production CH-53Ks to the tune of a whopping $303,974,406, some wondered whether the aircraft was approaching $150 million per helicopter.
But Corps officials routinely argue that the correct way to look at the CH-53Ks cost is its recurring fly-away cost, which currently is hovering at $87 million per aircraft.
Nevertheless, military officials are serious about reducing the costs of the new heavy lift helicopter.
“PMA-261 is committed to reducing costs throughout the CH-53K lifecycle; this includes investing in additional intellectual capital to expand the program’s affordability projects,” Greg Kuntz, a NAVAIR spokesman, told Marine Corps Times. “As a new aircraft, it is likely that a savings can be achieved in production and lifecycle costs by early identification of production equipment and process improvement changes. This delivery order provides for that additional investment.”
In mid-May, the Corps took delivery of its first CH-53K at New River air station in North Carolina.
But the King Stallion is not operational quite yet and likely won’t be until sometime in 2019. The Corps is still running more tests on the beastly helicopter.
The CH-53K’s heavy lift capabilities make it vital to the Corps’ emerging operational concepts in the Pacific, where the Corps plans to distribute its forces.
The distributed network of Marine forces will make it more difficult for near-peer rival China to concentrate fire on any one single Marine unit. But it also provides unique challenges ensuring that Marines adequately supplied.
The CH-53K is capable of hauling 27,000 pounds for 110 nautical miles and has demonstrated lifting 36,000 pounds externally. It is one of the most powerful helicopters in the U.S. arsenal.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.