|01-10-2006, 06:26 AM||#1 (permalink)|
MSgt USMC Ret
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: San Diego
Marines Begin New Helicopter Program
InsideDefense.com NewsStand | Jason Ma | January 09, 2006
Having received approval from Pentagon leaders, the Marine Corps has begun the system development and demonstration phase of a new helicopter program to replace its aging CH-53Es.
The initiative is now called the CH-53K program. Previously, it had other monikers, including CH-53X and the Heavy Lift Replacement program.
On Dec. 22, the Defense Acquisition Board blessed plans to begin the new phase of the program. In other words, the panel granted milestone B approval.
Sikorsky, the company that will build the new helicopter, received an $8.8 million contract Jan. 3 for initial SDD work.
Another SDD contract award to Sikorsky, estimated at $2.9 billion, is expected in the next few months, according to Col. Paul Croisetiere, H-53 program manager. He projected overall research and development costs to total about $4.4 billion. Procurement costs will total about $14.4 billion, he estimated.
Sikorsky will receive the contract on a sole-source basis because it makes the CH-53E, and an analysis of alternatives showed that basing the CH-53K on the CH-53E would be the most affordable option, Croisetiere told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Jan. 5. Putting the program up for competition also would have lengthened the time Marines would have to wait for CH-53E replacements, he said. Under the CH-53K program, an initial operational capability of four helicopters is scheduled for fiscal year 2015.
“The most affordable solution for the Marine Corps was the 53 derivative,” he said.
Last month, defense appropriations conferees approved the FY-06 budget request of $272 million for the CH-53K. While the Bush administration is still working on the FY-07 budget request, a Navy official estimated that the program would receive between $2 billion and $3 billion from FY-07 to FY-11.
The CH-53Es have seen extensive use in recent years and are suffering from accelerated wear and tear from harsh environments like Iraq's. At about $15,000 per flight hour, the CH-53Es are already the most expensive aircraft in the Navy to operate, Croisetiere said. And to meet future warfighting requirements, the Marine Corps needs a helicopter that can carry heavier loads, he added, noting that the CH-53E design was based on lessons from the Vietnam War.
The new CH-53Ks, therefore, will include upgrades to improve reliability, maintenance requirements and performance over the CH-53Es. The CH-53K is being designed to lift 27,000 pounds versus 12,100 pounds on the CH-53E. The CH-53K's cabin area will be a foot wider, allowing it to carry a humvee internally, which the CH-53E must do externally.
Sikorsky has found that 60 to 65 percent of the CH-53E's operating costs originate from rotating parts, such as the blades, transmission, drive train, tail rotor and engine, said David Haines, the company's H-53 program manager. So Sikorsky plans to apply innovations in helicopter technology to address those sources of increased operating costs, he noted at the briefing.
“We're 30 years smarter than we were when we first brought this into production,” he said.
In addition to performance and reliability improvements, the CH-53K is supposed to have better protection for its passengers and a new cockpit, Croisetiere said. The program has looked to the Joint Strike Fighter program's logistics concept to improve the CH-53K's logistics footprint, which he thinks could be 10 percent less than the CH-53E's. And while the cabin will have more width, the airframe will be 18 feet wide compared to 24 feet on the CH-53E, allowing for easier handling aboard a ship, he noted.
Sikorsky plans to award subcontracts for the cockpit, engine, avionics and probably the airframe, Haines said. The company already has identified General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell and Rolls-Royce as potential engine suppliers, he said. There are several candidates to provide avionics as well, he added. Sikorsky is already transitioning airframe production of the H-60 helicopters to other companies and could do the same for the CH-53K. Instead of building the airframe, Sikorsky would concentrate on what it considers its core competencies, such as systems integration, airframe integration, blades, transmission and final assembly, he said.
“Our anticipation is we will do [airframe production] outside the company because we believe we also have other areas that we are going to concentrate on,” Haines said.
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