Pentagon leadership has approved the Marine Corps' developmental CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter to enter production, according to a spokesman.
On April 4, James MacStravic, who is the acting under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, gave the go-ahead for the $26.2 billion, 200-aircraft program to begin low-rate initial production, according to Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Patrick Evans.
"From the review, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of the USD(AT&L) determined that the program is ready for the Production and Deployment phase," Evans wrote in an email.
The CH-53K helicopter's prime contractor is Sikorsky, now owned by Lockheed Martin. The CH-53K has been developed to carry three times the maximum load of a legacy CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter. The Navy requested $436 million in fiscal year 2017 to buy two CH-53Ks as part of the first lot of low-rate initial production, according to budget justification documents. But the program will not be allowed to begin initial production under a continuing resolution. The current CR runs through April 28.
Lately, the cost of the CH-53K has been a contentious point. During an April 3 briefing at the Sea Air Space conference in National Harbor, MD, Col. Hank Vanderborght disputed recent statements comparing the cost of the CH-53K to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Vanderborght, H-53 program manager, said the average cost of a CH-53K chopper would be $87.1 million over the course of the program. But he conceded the average unit price when taking total program costs, including research and development, into account is $131.3 million in FY-17 dollars, as cited in the Government Accountability Office's March 2017 "Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs" report.