The Department of Defense is assessing whether the Chinook can replace the CH-53K that the Marines intend to purchase. The assessment for an alternative came from a request from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, who is monitoring the troubled program.
As reported by Bloomberg News, a Pentagon decision to direct the Navy to buy maritime versions of the CH-47 — assuming the chopper can be converted for the rugged, corrosive environment of aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships — would be a blow to Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed. The Navy’s plans to buy 200 King Stallions, known as the CH-53K, were a prime motivation for the company’s $9 billion acquisition of Sikorsky Aircraft in 2015.
Bill Falk, the King Stallion’s program director, is confident the CH-53K remains the Navy’s best choice.
“There is simply no other helicopter that comes close to the performance of the CH-53K or that can meet Marine Corps requirements,” said.
That view was echoed by Marine Corps Lieutenant General Steven Rudder, the service’s deputy commandant for aviation, who said the King Stallion is the only aircraft with the heavy-lift capability “to meet future operational requirements.”
But Boeing’s Philadelphia plant and its 4,580 workers would receive a major boost if the Pentagon shifted direction given that the Army, in its new five-year budget plan, proposed halting procurement of 28 CH-47 Chinooks and shifting an estimated $962 million into a separate program.
Noteworthy the Pentagon review also comes just before the Navy plans to award a production contract for as many as 14 new King Stallions this month; so far only two of the planned 200 helicopters are under contract.
“We have a limited amount of time to try and inform that decision as much as possible — so we have a very short window in which to do the best job we can on this analysis,” Robert Daigle, director of the cost analysis office, said. He added that he wants to complete it in “a handful of weeks.”
However converting the CH-47 for USMC missions would not be an easy task Daigle explained. “The analysis we’ve have done so far doesn’t suggest that the ’47 is actually going to meet the lift that the ’53K will provide so if you were going to go down the ’47 route, our current estimate says there will be an operational impact.” Pentagon officials, the Navy and Marines will have to determine whether that trade off is worthwhile, he added.
Todd Blecher, a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing, said in statement that the Chinook already “conducts ship-based operations for U.S. Special Forces and international operators, and enjoys a strong reputation among all the U.S. services. We appreciate this opportunity to discuss how it could affordably address missions and requirements beyond those for which it is normally considered.”
The Navy acknowledged in the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) to Congress that the King Stallion won’t meet its December target date for initial combat capability. The new tentative date is September 2021, according to the document obtained by Bloomberg News.
The Navy program office and Lockheed’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit are working in the current development phase to address 126 technical deficiencies in the chopper, according to the SAR report.
Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Molly Hampton / U.S. Marine Corps and Boeing
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