For years, the Navy has been planning to buy Lockheed's newest version of the Sea Stallion helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. In fact, they've already pre-ordered 200 of the new helicopter. But Lockheed's new bird is running into a lot of stumbling blocks, ones that have the Navy careening toward a tried-and-true Army favorite: The Chinook.
The Chinook took its first flight with the U.S. Military in 1961.
The Pentagon has directed the Navy to look at buying maritime versions of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter, a version that is protected against the corrosive seaborne environment of aircraft carriers and amphibious warfare ships. Lockheed's billion King Stallion program has run into a series of technical problems and delays over the past few months. The program is delayed by more than a year and still has "100 outstanding deficiencies that require resolution," according to Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Since one of the missions for the new King Stallion is moving heavy cargo, not just any replacement will do. That's where the Chinook comes in.
The CH-53K King Stallion.
"There is simply no other helicopter that comes close to the performance of the CH-53K or that can meet Marine Corps requirements," said Bill Falk, Lockheed's King Stallion program director. The Marine Corps agrees, saying adapting the CH-47 for maritime operations is no simple fix or easy upgrade. The Marines believe the Chinook can't provide the heavy lift necessary for future operations.
Boeing, of course, disagrees, saying the helicopter already "conducts ship-based operations for U.S. Special Forces and international operators, and enjoys a strong reputation among all the U.S. services."