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CH-53X Super Stallion

The Super Stallion continues to undergo improvements that increase operational readiness and safety. Modifications, such as a night vision system, heads up display, global positioning system, UHF/VHF jam-resistant radios, crashworthy seats, and number two engine fire detectors, enhance the aircraft's survivability and capability. During 1998, the Fleet received three new production CH-53Es. In June 1998, engineers successfully completed a critical design review for an H-53 and H-60 Integrated Mechanical Diagnostics (IMD) Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) that will integrate, test, and procure a commercial/military "dual use" mechanical diagnostic system. Proposals had been made to extend the capabilities of the CH-53E. The current design has a 79-foot diameter rotor and can transport a 9,500-pound load 110 nautical miles. The services are pursuing designs designated as the CH-53X and the CH-53X+. They promise capabilities not achievable with the CH-53E.

The CH-53X would retain the 79-foot diameter of the CH-53E but would operate with a disc loading of 16.3 lbft-2 in contrast to the disc loading of 14.23 lbft-2 used in the CH-53E. It would obviously require a higher-performance engine than the one used in the CH-53E. The proposed CH-53X design should allow the transport of a 27,000-pound load over a distance of up to 110 nautical miles.

The CH-53X+ was designed to carry a 40,000-pound payload to a range of 250 nautical miles. It would require making major aerodynamic and structural changes to the CH-53E. Maintaining current disc loading would require a 116- to 120-foot-diameter rotor. This modification would in turn require a redesigned fuselage and an extended tail rotor boom.

Some members of the helicopter design community have observed that the capabilities projected for the CH-53X+ represent a major challenge. The introduction of a new engine, a much larger rotor, higher disc loading, a new tail boom, and (probably) a new transmission amounts to a new aircraft, with many design unknowns. Further, a helicopter with a rotor diameter of 120 feet and takeoff weight of approximately 160,000 pounds may not be compatible with existing ships.

The anticipated requirement to carry more than 40,000 pounds to ranges of 250 to 300 miles is similar to the capabilities of the Russian Mi-26 HALO helicopter. The existence of the Mi-26 suggests that the technology for such an aircraft already lies beyond technology readiness level 6. However, it is not clear that the airframe of this aircraft has the dimensions to allow internal carriage of ISO containers or Stryker vehicles.

The Marine Corps announced in late 2000 a plan to remanufacture the CH-53E heavy lift helicopters. A contract award was expected in FY04, with full-rate production commencing in FY11. The upgrades to the helicopters would extend their operational life to 2025. The CH-53X program would upgrade 111 of the Corps' 165 CH-53Es to "like new" condition at a cost of about $21 million apiece, about one-fifth the cost of a new replacement helicopter. The CH-53X would reduce operational costs by 25%, or roughly $30 million per year. The new engines will be Rolls-Royce AE1107C. Upgrades include an all-composite rotor blade based on the Sikorsky S-92 blade, an elastomeric rotor head also modeled after the S-92, an improved cargo hook system, and a common glass cockpit identical to either the MV-22 or the UH-1Y cockpit. Load capability would be increased to 12,700 kg. The CH-53X would have a payload three times that of the CH-53E over a 200 nautical mile radius.

This acquisition is intended to satisfy the United States Marine Corps (USMC) CH-53X Heavy-Lift Helicopter (CH-53X) Operational Requirements Document (ORD), number AAS 34.6. The Marine Corps Requirements Oversight Council (MROC) concurred with the CH-53X ORD, per MROC Decision Memorandum 05-2004 dated 17 November 2003. This ORD was submitted on 10 December 2003 for Joint Requirements Oversight Council review and approval, under Knowledge Management / Decision Support System control number 03-50090314-00. The Analysis of Alternatives was completed on 11 September 2003, and recommended a new-build approach for update of the CH-53E to the CH-53X configuration.

In March 2004 the Marine Corps decided to replace its heavy-lift helicopter fleet with a substantially redesigned version of the CH-53 Super Stallion. The Corps decided to buy 154 new CH-53s from Sikorsky to replace ones that have flown more missions than the 1960s design called for. The new CH-53(X) would look like the current E version but otherwise will be a new aircraft. This reverses the Corps' 2000 plan for a service life extension program that would have kept the original airframes while replacing the engines, rotor blades and cockpit.

The CH-53X, an upgraded variant of the CH-53E, will provide improvements in range and payload performance, cargo handling and turn-around times, reliability and maintainability, interoperability, and survivability. The CH-53X program is required to provide full system capability, including shipboard compatibilities, at Initial Operational Capability (IOC), in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The CH-53X will replace the CH-53E, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) achieved by FY 2021.

The CH-53X Heavy Lift Helicopter program is a pre-Major Defense Acquisition Program (program number 390). The CH-53X program will be initiated as an Acquisition Category (ACAT) I program, based on total estimated costs for both Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), and Aircraft Procurement, Navy (APN). Entry into the acquisition process at Milestone (MS) B is planned for the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2005. Approval of MS B will mark initiation of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the CH-53X program. The CH-53X program will use a single-step acquisition approach to meet an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of FY 2015.

FY04-FY05 RDT&E efforts focused on trade studies for the CH-53X. FY05-FY07 RDT&E efforts focus on CH-53X System Development and Demonstration (SDD) activities that accomplish a successful FY06 Preliminary Design Review and promote a successful FY08 Critical Design Review. Schedule has matured as CH-53X Engineering Trade Studies have been completed and requirements have been defined. While MS B remains scheduled for 4QFY05, MS C has moved to FY12 from FY08, with corresponding adjustments to key events between MS B and MS C.

The Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, formerly known as the CH-53X program, is the solution to maintain the Super Stallion as the premier heavy-lift aircraft beyond the year 2025.



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