NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Marine Corps plans to deploy its powerful new heavy-lift helicopter for the first time in 2026 — the year after it previously had anticipated.

The CH-53K King Stallion will get deployed from the East Coast sometime in 2026 with a Marine expeditionary unit, said Col. Kate Fleeger, the helicopter’s program manager, on Tuesday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

At the same conference in 2023, Fleeger said the Corps planned to deploy the King Stallion with a Marine expeditionary unit in 2025.

But the Marine Corps has adjusted how many heavy-lift helicopter squadrons it anticipates having on the East Coast, Fleeger said Tuesday.

The Corps’ previous plan had been to deactivate Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, keeping Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, but now the plan is for both North Carolina-based squadrons to remain in the fleet, according to the colonel.

Before sending the helicopters abroad with a Marine expeditionary unit — a crisis-response force that travels aboard three amphibious ships — the Corps wants to make sure it would have enough spare components and repair capability left in the United States, according to Fleeger.

“What we don’t want to do is we don’t want to send aircraft forward and then have a deficit at home,” Fleeger said.

The Marine Corps has tweaked its deployment timeline for the King Stallion before: Back in 2022, the service said it planned to deploy the helicopter in 2024.

The sea services tout the King Stallion as the most powerful helicopter in the U.S. military.

A replacement for the aging CH-53E Super Stallion, the King Stallion can haul armored vehicles or other heavy equipment over long stretches of land and sea. The service predicts the King Stallion would be especially useful in providing logistics support to Marines who are spread out on and near shore in the Indo-Pacific.

Sikorsky, the Lockheed Martin subsidiary that manufactures the helicopter, has delivered 14 King Stallions to the Marine Corps and has 79 total on contract, including 12 for Israel, according to Andrea Ulery, program manager for the aircraft at the company.

The King Stallion won’t reach full operational capability until 2029, according to Fleeger, but the helicopter already has shown off its power in domestic missions.

In September 2021, Marines used a King Stallion to recover a Navy MH-60S Seahawk that had experienced a hard landing in California’s White Mountains. It was déjà vu all over again in October 2023, when Marines once again used a King Stallion to recover a downed Navy Seahawk from California mountains.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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