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The US Marine Corps’ CH-53K programme reached an important milestone in early March. The project phase “Initial Operational Test and Evaluation” (IOT&E) was successfully completed, manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced. This has created an important prerequisite for achieving Initial Operational Capability (IOC). To meet this criterion, the squadron must have four CH-53K helicopters with combat-ready personnel, as well as support equipment, including spares, repair support and training curriculum.

During the IOT&E phase, the helicopter underwent intensive testing in numerous Marine Corps-specific missions under battlefield conditions. According to Naval Air Systems Command (NavAir), these included:

  • operations in degraded visibility conditions
  • take-offs and landings from and on naval vessels
  • ramp and door firing
  • aerial refuelling of helicopters in both day and night

In a second phase of the IOT&E, the helicopter will be further tested to gather insights as the basis for a full assessment of the survivability of the CH-53K against operational threats. The requested funding of US$257M has been allocated for this purpose.

Approval for series production is expected in November, followed by crossing the Full Rate Production (FRP) threshold in May 2023.