Just days after the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMOD) signed off on the acquisition of two Boeing KC-46 tankers, the next piece of the Israel Defense Force/Air Force’s re-equipment plans has fallen into place. On February 25, the IMOD announced it has selected the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion over the Boeing CH-47 Chinook to be its next heavylift helicopter. If, as is likely, an order is placed soon, Israel will become the first export customer for the type. As yet there are no details concerning numbers and delivery schedule.
Acquiring a new heavylift rotorcraft is a priority for the IDF. The first of its current fleet of Sikorsky CH-53s (procured under Sikorsky’s in-house designation of S-65C-3) was delivered in September 1969, acquiring the name Yas’ur (petrel). The type made headlines in December that year when it was used to capture and transport a Soviet-made Egyptian radar back to Israel for evaluation, and has been heavily used since then in many IDF operations.
Two major upgrade and life-extension programs have been applied to the fleet, known as Yas’ur 2000 and Yas’ur 2025. Currently, the Israeli Air Force has 23 CH-53s flying with two squadrons, and is expected to replace them with CH-53Ks on a nearly one-for-one basis.
The CH-53K is also being pitched to the German armed forces, which are seeking a new heavylifter with combat search and rescue capabilities under the Schwerer Transporthubschrauber (STH, heavylift helicopter) program. Germany has operated the first-generation CH-53G version since 1971, its 110 aircraft being assembled locally by VFW-Fokker. They were initially operated by the army but are now an air force asset. As in Israel, the fleet has been upgraded, and now comprises CH-53GA/GS/GE sub-variants. Competition for the STH requirement again comes from Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook.
In late January Sikorsky renewed its industrial teaming agreement in Germany to support its bid, which includes considerable local workshare. Rheinmetall leads the German industrial team, which includes MTU Aero Engines, Autoflug, Hydro Flug, Collins Aerospace, Rohde & Schwarz, Hensoldt, Vincorion, ZFL, and Reiser.
Meanwhile, in mid-January U.S. Marine Corps pilots from VMX-1 began flying the CH-53K as the type prepares for its initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase scheduled for the summer. The type could be deployed by the Corps as early as 2023.