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Marine Corps’ CH-53K program completes operational testing

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18th March 2022 – The Marine Corps’ CH-53K program completed initial operational test and evaluation earlier this month and is on track to be operational this year. Initial operational capability will be achieved when the first Marine Corps squadron receives four CH-53K aircraft with combat-ready personnel and support equipment, including spares, repair support and training curriculum, according to program spokeswoman Megan Wasel. The CH-53K is the Marine Corps’ new heavy-lift helicopter expected to replace the legacy CH-53E helicopter. Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky is the program’s prime contractor.

USMC CH 53K IOT

Foto: US DoD

During IOT&E, the Marine Corps’ operational test squadron completed all its scheduled test events, including a non-test event recovering a 14,000 lb. downed Navy H-60 in the mountains of Northern California, according to Wasel. “IOT&E events included numerous Marine Corps-specific mission requirements: degraded visual environment operations, takeoff and landings from U.S. shipping, ramp and door gun firing, and helicopter aerial refueling,” Wasel said. “These missions were conducted in both day and night-time environments.”

The design deficiencies identified during testing were “within the expected range” for developmental testing and the program is working on solutions for all issues, including engine dust and sand ingestion, according to Wasel. “Both the main rotor damper and intermediate gearbox technical issues are rated low risk for potential impact to program requirements and execution,” Wasel added. The “controlled unclassified information” version of the Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation’s annual report found that engine degradation due to sand ingestion hampers CH-53K performance in desert environments. 

Full-rate production approval is planned for this November, Wasel said, reaching the FRP “threshold” by May 2023. DOT&E recommended the Marine Corps develop a follow-on operational test and evaluation program to evaluate deployment capabilities not tested in IOT&E. “All capabilities on the CH-53K program will be evaluated in an operational test environment before those capabilities are deployed in accordance with the Test and Evaluation Master Plan,” Wasel said. “A follow-on test and evaluation strategy is established and will continue to be refined as the program matures.”

Phase II of the program’s live-fire test and evaluation phase is “essential” for a complete survivability assessment of the CH-53K against operational threats, according to DOT&E. “The phase II scope has been defined and the funding to support is being requested through the Program Objective Memorandum process,” Wasel said. The fiscal year 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday, fully funds the requested $256.9 million in research and development for the CH-53K program. 

Source: Inside Defense

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