Defense procurement committee greenlights deal for CH-53K helicopters

Israel’s Ministerial committee that oversees defense procurement approved the Defense Ministry’s recommendation to purchase 10 new helicopters for USD $2.4 billion. 

The CH-53K on it's maiden flight in the skies of Berlin (photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
The CH-53K on it's maiden flight in the skies of Berlin
(photo credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)

Israel’s ministerial committee that oversees defense procurement has approved a deal for the Israel Air Force’s new heavy-lift CH-53k helicopters.

The committee approved the Defense Ministry’s recommendation to purchase the new helicopters at a cost of $2.4 billion.

According to the Hebrew daily The Marker, the discussion surrounding the new helicopters lasted less than an hour before they approved the purchase of 10 to 15 CH-53k helicopters.

The committee includes Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who was out of the country did not attend the meeting yesterday.

Israel announced in 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. The decision by the committee on Sunday allows the military to replace the current Yasur fleet.

Lockheed Martin Sikorsky's Ch-53K on the tarmac at Berlin Air Show (credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)
Lockheed Martin Sikorsky's Ch-53K on the tarmac at Berlin Air Show (credit: ANNA AHRONHEIM)

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

While the aging helicopters have been upgraded with 20 new electronic systems and missile defense, the IAF needs to replace them by 2025 when they will be over 50 years old. Despite a long delay in the process, the new CH-53K helicopters are expected to land in Israel by 2025 or 2026 and be operational the following year.

The State Comptroller’s report in 2019 recommended that the IAF replace the aging aircraft as soon as possible. “Prolonging the life of the Yasur is liable to endanger human life and may have significant operational implications and substantial maintenance costs,” the report said.

There have been several incidents involving Yasur helicopters since the report was released, and the fleet has been grounded numerous times as well, indicating the seriousness of the issues.

In July, the US State Department approved the sale of 18 Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters to Israel. The deal also included up to 60 T408-GE-400 engines, up to 36 embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems with Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Module, an unspecified number of GAU-21 .50 caliber machine guns, and more.

The main contractors will be Lockheed Martin Global, Inc. and General Electric Company.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” the State Department said at the time. “The proposed sale will improve the Israeli Air Force’s capability to transport armored vehicles, personnel, and equipment to support distributed operations. Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.”

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 530 miles (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 fuel tanks have also been designed to have inert gases pumped into them instead of allowing oxygen to build up inside.

The CH-53K is fitted with digital fly-by-wire avionics with fully integrated flight and navigation displays, 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 able to be carried by older helicopters.