WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy last week declared the Marine Corps’ CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter ready for full-rate production, allowing the Marines to double their annual buys of the aircraft in the next three years.

Jay Stefany, the acting assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, signed a memo Dec. 21 confirming the move to a higher production rate was appropriate based on how the helicopter did in testing and the program’s cost and production line performance.

In a statement, Marine Corps Col. Kate Fleeger, the Navy’s heavy lift helicopter program manager, said the service has “successfully demonstrated the performance and reliability of this aircraft.”

“With FRP we will continue to build on the strong manufacturing, sustainment and support that has been established for the CH-53K,” she added.

Sikorsky, the helicopter’s manufacturer, said it is already procuring long-lead items and critical materials to support this increased production rate at its Connecticut facility. The supply base includes more than 200 companies across 35 states.

“Ramping up production of the most technologically advanced helicopter in the world allows the U.S. Marine Corps to build out its CH-53K King Stallion fleet and support mission success,” Bill Falk, Sikorsky’s director of the CH-53K program, said in a statement. “This production authorization stabilizes Sikorsky’s domestic supply chain and is a testament to our enduring partnership with the Marine Corps.”

The Navy has awarded Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, six low-rate initial production contracts for 42 aircraft. The service has already awarded long-lead contracts for Lots 7 and 8, the first two lots under full-rate production.

According to Navy budget documents, the Marine Corps intends to buy 10 aircraft in fiscal 2023, 15 in FY24, and 21 a year beginning in FY25.

The Marine Corps in April declared initial operational capability for the helicopter, meaning the service has sufficient training, logistics and spares to support the first deployment of this aircraft. That first deployment is planned for FY24. The aircraft is expected to reach full operational capability by FY29.

The Marine Corps intends to buy 200 aircraft, keeping the production line hot through at least 2032.

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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