Lockheed-Sikorsky to begin production of CH-53K helicopters for Israel

The US-based defense company said that the first four of 12 aircraft have begun production after a letter of offer and acceptance was signed late last year.

 A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT)
A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT)

Lockheed Martin will produce 12 CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters for Israel under a US Navy Foreign Military Sales agreement, with the first expected to arrive in Israel in 2026.

The US-based defense company said that the first four of 12 aircraft have begun production after a letter of offer and acceptance (LoA) was signed between Israel’s Defense Ministry and the US government late last year.

The aircraft will be manufactured at Sikorsky headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut, where several additional Israeli-made systems like electronic warfare, communication and navigation systems will also be installed.

Other systems will be installed once the helicopters land in Israel.

“We are building on decades of experience and partnership in supporting the CH-53E for the Marine Corps and the CH53D for the IAF,” Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said, adding that the company “has a deep understanding of the worldwide heavy-lift mission-enabling” and that it has a “proven supply chain to offer tailored solutions resulting in more efficient missions.”

 A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT) A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (credit: REUTERS/AXEL SCHMIDT)

The LoA signed late last year was to acquire the 12 CH-53K helicopters and two additional Boeing KC-46 refueling aircraft. The deal regarding the helicopters is estimated at $2 billion with the first aircraft expected to arrive in Israel throughout 2026, with an option to procure an additional six helicopters.

Israel announced last February that it would purchase one squadron of CH-53K over Boeing’s CH-47 to replace its fleet of Yasur helicopters at Tel Nof Air Base.

First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yasur is the air force’s primary helicopter used to transport soldiers and equipment and has taken part in a wide variety of missions, including secret operations as well as search-and-rescue missions.

The CH-53K, the successor to the CH-53, is powered by three engines that give it a cruising speed of 261 kph (162 mph) and a range of 852 km. (530 miles). 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. It also has crash-worthy seats and retracting landing gear, significantly increasing aircraft and crew survivability.

The fuel tanks have been designed to have inert gases pumped into them instead of allowing oxygen to build up inside, giving them a lesser likelihood of exploding if hit by incoming projectiles.

The CH-53K is fitted with digital fly-by-wire avionics with fully integrated flight and navigation displays. It also has a mechanical diagnostic system that notifies maintenance crews when a part needs to be replaced, and can carry three times the amount of cargo than older helicopters.