WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy awarded its largest contract yet for the CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopter program, with a $2.77 billion contract Thursday for 35 aircraft.

The contract with Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, covers 12 lot 7 and 15 lot 8 aircraft for the U.S. Marine Corps, as well as eight aircraft for the Israeli Air Force.

“This contract award for 35 CH-53K helicopters stabilizes Sikorsky’s nationwide supply base, creates additional production efficiencies, and provides the U.S. Marine Corps with transformative 21st century technologies,” Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo said in a news release.

Deliveries will begin in 2026, according to the release.

Israel previously purchased four aircraft in 2022 under a Foreign Military Sales agreement. The helicopter will support the Israeli Air Force’s special operations program, among other missions.

Israel signed on to buy the 12 aircraft now on contract, and has an option to buy six more. The U.S. Marine Corps have a program of record for 200 aircraft.

For the Corps, the lot 7 and lot 8 contracts — using fiscal 2023 and fiscal 2024 money, respectively — are the first two full-rate production contracts. The Navy declared the program was ready for full-rate production in December.

Production at Sikorsky’s Connecticut facility will quickly ramp up, as the first six contracts cumulatively covered 42 aircraft. With full-rate production declared, the Corps is expected to buy 21 per year starting in FY25, budget documents show.

Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s CH-53K program manager, told reporters in April that the company had “dramatically changed our production line in Connecticut as we ramp towards full-rate production.”

The plant now has two parallel production lines, allowing for the company to churn out two helicopters a month. That could grow to three a month if needed, if additional foreign customers sign onto the program, he said.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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