Israel procures five CH-53 helicopters for spare parts

IAF Yas'ur helicopters grounded following devastating engine fire destroyed a platform in November

Five US Navy Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters bought by Israel's Defense Ministry for spare parts arrive at Ashdod Port (Credit: Defense Ministry)
The Defense Ministry bought five US Navy Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters to use for spare parts as the Air Force’s main transport helicopter remains grounding following a devastating accident.
“To address the growing difficulty in finding spare parts for the IDF’s veteran fleet of helicopters, the US Department of Defense, together with the Air Force, initiated over a year ago the procurement of US helicopters to be used as spare parts for the existing systems,” the Defense Ministry said.
According to the ministry, five helicopters were loaded onto a ship at the Port of Houston in Texas a month and a half ago. The procurement was completed on Saturday night, with the unloading of the platforms at the Port of Ashdod.
Israel’s Yas’ur squadron was grounded in November after a helicopter, which was one of three en route to a base in southern Israel for a training exercise, was flying at a height of 170 m. and suffered an engine fire. The pilots carried out an emergency landing within a minute of the fire breaking out.
Though the IDF said the engine fire was the result of a “technical malfunction,” the military will be investigating the specific cause.
First used by the IAF in 1969, the Yas’ur helicopter is the air force’s primary helicopter used regularly to transport soldiers and equipment. They have also taken part in a wide variety of missions, including secret operations and search and rescue missions, and are used regularly to transport soldiers and equipment.
While the aging helicopters have been upgraded with 20 new electronic systems and missile defense, the IAF will still need to replace them by 2025, when they will be more than 50 years old.
According to a 2017 State Controller report, there is a significant gap in the availability of spare parts for the aging aircraft which “require maintenance more frequently.” The report recommended examining alternatives in order to ensure their continued use.
The report also warned the military must decide on new helicopters as soon as possible to replace the aging Yas’ur helicopters because “prolonging the life of the Yas’ur is liable to endanger human life, and may have significant operational implications and substantial maintenance costs... The chief of staff must make a decision as soon as possible vis-à-vis future operational needs as part of the decision regarding the Yas’ur alternatives and the timetable set for this purpose.”
Avi Messiah, who is the head of procurement of the Israel Air Force in the United States, said “as soon as the Air Force was assigned the mission, we started looking for helicopters to meet the appropriate profile and operational needs... We located five US Army surplus helicopters that met the requirements, and immediately began working to get all the helicopter purchase permits for spare parts and for shipping them thousands of miles from Houston, Texas, to Israel.”
Shai Halperin, the deputy head of the production and procurement department at the Defense Ministry, said while the ministry transports thousands of tons of military equipment to and from the state every year, the operation to bring the platforms to Israel “require special assessments” – both because of the complexity to load the helicopters and the “importance of the mission to the defense establishment and the Air Force.”