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US Marine Corps’ CH-53K achieves initial operational capability

First operational flight of the CH-53K King Stallion
US marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461 taxi in a CH-53K King Stallion after its first operational flight at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, April 13, 2022.

The US Marine Corps has declared initial operational capability (IOC) for its new CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter, the service announced on April 25.

In addition to meeting IOC criteria, the CH-53K successfully completed a thorough initial operational test and evaluation period that resulted in over 3,000 mishap free hours flown in various challenging environments and terrain, the service said in a statement.

Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Mark Wise announced the milestone for the CH-53K King Stallion program on April 22, three months after the service began fielding the aircraft. The program entered initial operational test and evaluation in 2021.

“My full confidence in the CH-53K’s ability to execute the heavy lift mission is the result of successful developmental and operational testing conducted by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX) 1” said Wise.

The Sikorsky-built CH-53K is an optimized vertical, heavy lift, sea-based, long range solution for the naval force and will immediately provide nearly three times the lift capability of the CH-53E, with the ability to transport one hundred percent of the vertical Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF). Per the Commandant’s Force Design 2030 Annual Update, the CH-53K will complement connectors that will enable littoral maneuver and provide logistical support to a widely disaggregated naval force.

The Marine Corps plans to deploy the first CH-53K Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) detachment in fiscal year 2024, setting the initial conditions for sustained CH-53K deployments in support of MEUs.

“The success to date of the CH-53K is a reflection of the hard work and effort by the Marines, sailors, and civilians at VMX-1, H-53 Program Office (PMA-261), and Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, and the support we have received over many years from across the Department of the Navy and our industry partners,” said Wise.

The King Stallion boasts an engine that produces 57% more horsepower with 63% fewer parts relative to its predecessor, which translates to an expanded capability to deliver internal and external cargo loads, providing the commander a mobility and sustainment capability the MAGTF has never had before.

The most notable attribute of the King Stallion is its ability to maintain increased performance margins in a degraded aeronautical environment, for example at higher altitudes, hotter climates and carrying up to 27,000 lbs. out to 110 nautical miles; whereas, the CH-53E would be limited to a 9,628-pound external load in the same environment.