Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jack Richardson

The CH-53K KING STALLION heavy transport helicopter has successfully completed several inflight refuelling tests with a KC-130J SUPER HERCULES tanker of the U.S. Marine Corps. Lasting several hours, the test flight took place at the beginning of April off the east coast of the US, meaning the latest member of the Sikorsky family of CH-53 transport helicopters has passed another major milestone. Inflight refuelling has also been defined as an essential capability for the Bundeswehr’s new heavy transport helicopter, or STH. In response to the current Bundeswehr request for tenders, Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky has joined forces with Rheinmetall to offer Germany the CH-53 K.

Its advanced fly-by-wire flight control significantly reduces the strain on the crew during inflight refuelling operations, something which was confirmed during the recent flight tests and substantially expanding the CH-53K’s operational flexibility as it can be redeployed to distant areas of operation and remain aloft for extended periods. The helicopter can carry more personnel and materiel for longer distances and under more challenging operational conditions than any other aircraft of its kind. In addition to the KC-130J, the future Bundeswehr inventory will include the C-130J transport plane which is designed to use the 463L-standard air cargo pallets that the CH-53K can also transport. Using the same pallets in the fixed wing aircraft and transport helicopter offers immense advantages when it comes to loading and unloading materiel.

This interoperability reinforces military cooperation between France and Germany because at Évreux in Normandy, the two nations are currently creating a joint fleet of C-130J/KC- 130J aircraft, so the use of standardised air freight pallets also enables interoperability with other transport planes in Europe such as the A400M, a decisive advantage during joint operations.

Decision time

In the meantime, full-scale production of the CH-53K has begun at the Sikorsky plant in Connecticut with 31 aircraft currently at different stages of completion and the first USMC CH-53K squadron is expected to be operational by 2023/24. In Germany the CH-53K is now in the running for the Bundeswehr’s STH project (against the CH-47 CHINOOK) with the decision as to which heavy transport helicopter to buy expected at the beginning of 2021. The first aircraft could – as required – be delivered starting in 2024, thus enabling a seamless transition from the current CH-53G fleet, coupled with training of personnel and putting the necessary logistics in place for operating in Germany. By this time, the CH-53K helicopters supplied to the USMC will already be fully operational with Marine flight crews and maintenance technicians able to draw on their experience to assist in initial training of Bundeswehr personnel. The transition from the CH-53G now in service with the Bundeswehr to the new STH fleet of heavy transport helicopters is to be complete by 2032.