Two defense companies compete to replace Israel's heavy-lift helicopters

Israel has bought the F-15 and Apache attack helicopters from Boeing, and the Defense Ministry had in the past expressed interest in buying Boeing C-47 refueling planes.

August 2, 2017 21:49
3 minute read.
(L) Locheed Martin CH-53 King Stallion (CREDIT: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garci

(L) Locheed Martin CH-53 King Stallion (CREDIT: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia) next to a Boeing CH-47 Chinook (CREDIT: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson) . (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON & US MARINES CORP/TAFF SGT. GABRIELA GARCIA)


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Israel is modernizing its heavy-lift helicopter fleet and is considering two options for rotary-wing aircraft to replace its aging CH-53 Yasur helicopters by 2025, when they will be over 50 years old.

First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yasur is the air force’s primary transport aircraft and while it has been upgraded with new electronic and missile defense systems as well as other improvements to extend service life, they will need to be replaced in the coming years.

Two major American defense companies, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, both with long histories of providing Israel with military equipment are vying for the contract which will pit Boeing’s veteran transport helicopter, the CH-47 Chinook against Lockheed’s CH-53K King Stallion by Sikorsky, the maker of the Yasur.

According to Lt.-Col. (res.) Reuven Ben-Shalom, a cross-cultural strategist and former CH-53 pilot in the IAF, the main issues that Israel should focus on when choosing the helicopter are its operational capabilities such as payload and distance.

“What does the State of Israel want from this helicopter? Will it be used for skirmishes near our border or for special operations and extracting forces and pilots from the range like Iran,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, adding “how are you going to get Sayeret Matkal [the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit] to their operations?”

The speed of the helicopter is also an important aspect that must be considered especially when they are given a mission to rescue a downed pilot, Ben-Shalom said.

Funding for the procurement is to come from part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in September 2016 between Jerusalem and Washington that would provide Israel with $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade.

Frank Crisafulli, sales director international, heavy-lift helicopters at Sikorsky is quoted by Flight Global aviation website as saying that while the acquisition price of the CH-53K King Stallion with a unit cost of around $87 million will be higher than that of the Chinook with a unit cost of $38.55m. the CH-53K is “literally twice the helicopter.”

The CH-53K King Stallion, the successor to the CH-53, is powered by three engines giving it a cruising speed of 261 km/h and a range of 852 km. Operated by a crew of five, including two pilots and a combat crew of three gunners, it is fitted with self-defense weapons and ballistic protection and also has crash-worthy seats and retracting landing gear, significantly increasing aircraft and crew survivability.

The CH-53K is fitted with digital fly-by-wire avionics with fully integrated flight and navigation displays and has a mechanical diagnostic system which notifies maintenance crews when a part needs to be replaced and can carry three times the amount of cargo able to be carried by the C-47 Chinook.

The Chinook on the other hand is an advanced and versatile multi-role and multi-mission helicopter which features a full digital management system in the cockpit. In service in 19 countries it is a twin-engine, tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter used mainly for troop transport, artillery placement and battlefield resupply. It has a cruising speed of 291 kph and mission range of 370 km.

Israel had also expressed interest in Boeing’s V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft which can take off and land like helicopters but fly like fixed-wing planes and reportedly able to reach Iran, making them suitable for special missions by the IDF.

Israel has bought the F-15 and Apache attack helicopters from Boeing, and the Defense Ministry had in the past expressed interest in buying Boeing C-47 refueling planes in order to replace the Boeing 707 (Re’em) tanker aircraft of which many are nearing the age of 60.

Lockheed Martin, which previously sold Israel F-16s, is now selling Israel the F-35 (Adir) stealth fighter jets and the new C-130J Super Hercules (Shimshon) cargo planes.

While Ben-Shalom is a fan of the CH-53K, he told the Post that Israel must go with whichever helicopter gives the air force the best leap forward.

“It would be disappointing to go to an old helicopter which needs to be upgraded like we did with the CH-53. We need to get a brand new top-of-the line helicopter.

“We need to be the best of the best flying the best,” he said.

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