Top Marine Aviator Defends 'King Stallion' Heavy-Lift Helo Despite Setbacks

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The CH-53K King Stallion lifts a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, January 18, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Shannon Doherty)
The CH-53K King Stallion lifts a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, January 18, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Shannon Doherty)

The Marine Corps' next-generation heavy-lift helicopter program has long been delayed by technical problems and other flaws, but Lockheed Martin Corp.'s CH-53K remains the only aircraft that can meet the service's battlefield needs, a three-star general said.

The Corps will not pursue buying Boeing's CH-47 Chinook in place of the King Stallion, Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder said Monday at the annual Sea-Air-Space conference near Washington, D.C.

"We have not found another platform that can accomplish everything we can off of a ship at the distances and the weight that we're asking it to do," said Rudder, head of Marine Corps aviation.

The Marine Corps' plan to spend $31 billion on 200 CH-53Ks has come under scrutiny from lawmakers. Even with the high price tag -- about $155 million per aircraft -- there have been more than 100 deficiencies found during testing.

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The service got its first King Stallion a year ago, but setbacks have delayed the date the aircraft is expected to become combat-ready to as late as September 2021, Bloomberg News reported.

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, has instructed the Pentagon to review the buys and make sure the service can't get an aircraft with similar capabilities from another supplier, Rudder said.

"They were going to take a look at other alternatives -- not only the 47 but many other platforms ... as directed by the [congressional] committee," he said.

But the service needs an aircraft that can carry immense weight for long distances as Marines operate in more distributed environments, Rudder said. As of now, the CH-53K is the only helicopter "that can do what we're asking it to do," he added.

The general told lawmakers last month that all of the problems with the aircraft could be addressed.

"I think we're on the right track," he told the committee. "... If you let us continue on with the money we've asked for this year [and next year], we're going to fix this and we're going to deploy in 2024."

Rudder said Monday that Lockheed Martin will lower the Corps' bill for CH-53K fixes by "sharing the risk on some of the deficiencies."

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-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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