BERLIN ― Top U.S. Marine Corps brass traveled to Berlin this week to dispel the notion that the service’s newly developed CH-53K helicopter is too pricey and immature for the German military.
Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters told reporters at the Berlin Air Show that the heavy-lift helicopter holds “strategic importance” for the Marine Corps. He said the choppers ― the Marines want 200 ― would fulfill a key tenet in the U.S. government’s national defense strategy of “massing” combat power on the front lines in the form of troops and vehicles.
Germany is in the market to replace its fleet of aging CH-53G aircraft, seeking anywhere between 40 to 60 aircraft. The race is pretty much down to the CH-53K King Stallion and Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook. The pair essentially represents the choice between a modern, next-generation product that’s expensive on the one side and a legacy work horse that costs less on the other.
Marine Corps officials dismissed reports of a looming delay in initial operational capability scheduled for next year. Citing a recent Pentagon cost and risk assessment, Bloomberg reported this week that technical issues had put the timing at a “high risk.”
Marine Corps Col. Hank Vanderborght rejected that assessment in talking to reporters in Berlin. “We’re on target for meeting the 2019 ICO date,” he said.
Vanderborght told Defense News that the program is 20 percent over cost, as Bloomberg reported, which he said is “well below” the 30 percent threshold that requires congressional notification. He said the per-unit cost for the Marine Corps is $87 million, and he confirmed the figure would go up to $139.5 million when factoring all costs across the life cycle, including spares.
The Marine Corps’ appearance at the air show was set up as something of an assist for Lockheed Martin and its subsidiary Sikorsky, whose officials spoke immediately afterward.
The Marine Corps has an interest in Germany buying the King Stallion because a higher production volume could bring down prices for all customers, taking pressure off the Corps amid questions in the U.S. about high costs.
Sikorsky President Dan Schultz praised the helicopter’s lift power and internal space. “We’re the only ones who can pick up a Fennek inside,” he said, referring to the light-armored reconnaissance vehicle of Bundeswehr ground forces.
Boeing, for its part, continues to tout the price point of its CH-47 offering.
“The cost to purchase and maintain the Chinook is significantly lower than other platforms,” company spokeswoman Marcia Costley wrote in a statement. “The purchase price is dependent on the particular model that the customer chooses, the unique country specifications and quantity of the order.”