The CH-53 is the only marinized heavy-lift helicopter in the world, and the CH-53E is the Marine Corps only heavy-lift helicopter. An improved CH-53E is needed to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force heavy-lift requirements in the 21st century joint environment. The CH-53E mission is the conduct of expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations. The CH-53E "Super Stallion" was introduced into operations in 1980 as an upgrade version of the CH-53D. The CH-53E has developed performance degradation, fatigue life, interoperability, maintenance supportability, and other operational concerns.
The CH-53X Heavy Lift Replacement [HLR], an upgraded variant of the CH-53E, will provide improvements in range and payload performance, cargo handling and turn-around times, reliability and maintainability, interoperability, and survivability. The CH-53X program is required to provide full system capability, including shipboard compatibilities, at Initial Operational Capability (IOC), in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. The CH-53X will replace the CH-53E, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) achieved by FY 2021. FY04-FY05 RDT&E efforts focused on trade studies for the CH-53X.
The Navy's Heavy Lift Replacement [HLR] program, formerly known as the CH-53X, replaces the CH-53E and MH-53E which retire in about 2010. The HLR will be developed to fulfill the essential role of troop and heavy equipment transport and airborne mine countermeasures. The CH-53D is currently planned to remain in the fleet until at least 2005 and the CH-53E until 2025. Fleet utilization beyond these dates will depend on the integration of the MV-22 and the Joint Heavy Lift Replacement Aircraft. Some CH-53Es have already been retired, and the rest of them will run out of service life in the 2011-2012 timeframe.
The US Army continues to examine options for a heavy-lift Future Transport Rotorcraft to replace its Chinook fleet from 2018 on. However, doubts about the affordability of the program led the prospective FTR partner, the US Navy, to plan for a CH-53E upgrade instead. In October 2000 the Marine Corps decided not to join the program, placing their emphasis on the remanufacture of CH-53.
The Defense Department still has a number of remanufacturing programs, such as the UH-1, AH-1, and CH-53 for the Marine Corps and CH-47, UH-60, and AH-64D for the Army. However, the Department has modified the UH-1, CH-53, and CH-47 programs from being remanufacture programs to “new build of existing design” programs because the cost to remanufacture the UH-1, CH-47 and the CH-53 airframes have risen to a level equal to building a new airframe. Building new airframes removes many of the “unknown variables” which have plagued remanufacturing efforts and caused unforeseeable cost growth, it also allows deployed forces to continue using legacy assets longer.
The CH-53E Super Stallion, which was used extensively in Operation Enduring Freedom, is a three-engine, long-range, heavy-lift helicopter that is key to the assault support function of Marine Aviation. The current fleet of aircraft will reach the end of its service life by 2010. A comprehensive upgrade is required to effectively meet Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) and joint warfighting requirements over the next 25 years. The upgrade focuses on reliability, maintainability, cost of ownership, and performance.
The Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, formerly known as the CH-53X program, is the solution to maintain the Super Stallion as the premier heavy-lift aircraft beyond the year 2025. To properly and cost-effectively support sea-based Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare (EMW) for the Marine Corps in the 21st century, the upgraded CH-53 will deliver increased range and payload, reduced operations and support costs, increased commonality with other assault support platforms, and digital interoperability.
The HLR program will improve operational capabilities and reduce life-cycle costs. Commonality between other Marine Corps aircraft in terms of engines and avionics will greatly enhance the maintainability and deployability of the aircraft within the Air Combat Element (ACE). The HLR will vastly improve the ability of the MAGTF and Joint Task Force to project and sustain forces ashore from a sea-based center of operations in support of EMW. The performance improvements will enable the vertical insertion of two combat-loaded High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), one armored vehicle, or three 9,000-lb. sustainment loads to three separate landing zones. The reliability, maintainability, and cost of ownership improvements will allow all of this to happen more efficiently and at a lower cost.
In September 2003, the Navy evaluated seven existing aircraft platforms and determined that only the CH-53E (with substantial enhancements) was capable of meeting requirements for performance, inventory, operational capability dates, operating and support costs, and survivability. Previous assessments concluded that the CH-53 airframe was experiencing substantial fatigue due to age and lack of regular upgrades and modifications. The 2003 analysis evaluated four alternative CH-53E designs and recommended one of these to meet range and payload requirements and minimize effects to service capability dates, inventory, support costs, and risk.
After refining operational requirements for the HLR, the Navy selected a different alternative that offered additional performance and reliability improvements but added additional schedule and technical risk. To address these challenges, the Navy expected to implement an aggressive acquisition strategy for the HLR program, including sole-source contracting to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and a single-step acquisition approach. The program also intended to manufacture 50 of the 154 total helicopters (32 percent) during low-rate initial production and concurrent with initial operational testing. This concurrent production may help to field the systems sooner, but it could also result in greater retrofit costs if unexpected design changes are required.
In July 2004 the Naval Air Systems Command announced that it intended to negotiate a delivery order under Basic Ordering Agreement N00019-03-C-0003 with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, the OEM of the Marine Corps current heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-53E for requirements definition, engineering trade studies and risk reduction activities. The order will be awarded on a sole source basis to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, which is the only known source with the knowledge, experience, and proprietary technical data required to perform these tasks within the necessary time frame.
The Operational Requirements Document (ORD) completed joint staffing and was signed in December 2004. When the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) was completed in September 2003, it was determined that building a new airframe was the most cost effective course of action.
On 23 December 2004 Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, Conn., was awarded a $34, 002,410 time and materials delivery order against a previously awarded basic ordering agreement (N00019-03-G-0003) to perform requirements definition and engineering studies in support of the Marine Corps’ Heavy Lift Replacement Program. Work will be performed in Stratford, Conn., and is expected to be completed in May 2005. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. is the contracting activity.
In February 2005 Naval Air Systems Command announced that it intended to negotiate a modification to an existing delivery order under Basic Ordering Agreement N00019-03-C-0003 with Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, the OEM of the Marine Corps current heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-53E for additional requirements definition, engineering trade studies and risk reduction activities. The modification was awarded on a sole source basis to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, which is the only known source with the knowledge, experience, and proprietary technical data required to perform these tasks within the necessary time frame.
The critical technologies for the HLR program were not expected to be fully mature before the start of development in February 2005. An initial readiness assessment for the program identified 10 critical technologies. A subsequent assessment reduced that number to 3 -- the main rotor blades, the main rotor viscoelastic lag damper, and the main gearbox. Elements of the 7 eliminated technology areas, including the engines, may still present challenges to the program. The gearbox and the rotor blades are not expected to reach full maturity until 2011 and 2012, respectfully. Currently, an aggressive acquisition strategy is being planned.
The three critical technologies for the HLR program--the main rotor blades, the main rotor viscoelastic lag damper, and the main gearbox -- are not expected to be fully mature before the start of development in February 2005. A lag damper similar to that planned for use is currently in operation on another program, but it must be resized for use on the HLR and therefore will not reach full maturity until the critical design review in 2008. The gearbox and the rotor blades represent new technology areas that have only been demonstrated in a low fidelity laboratory environment and are not expected to reach full maturity until 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Other development items may present future challenges to the HLR program. While 10 critical technologies were originally identified for the program, an assessment conducted in September 2004 reduced those to the 3 above. Of the 7 technologies eliminated, 2 are being developed by the HLR program and 5 are being developed by or used on other programs and will then have to be integrated onto the HLR platform. In either case, this integration can represent potential risks to cost and schedule. For example, the program is still considering five different engine design options. While the Navy has determined that none of the engine designs are expected to use new or novel technology or represent a new relevant environment for use, each requires different levels of design change, developmental risk, and qualification. For two other technologies, less desirable backup systems will have to be used if the technologies are not developed as planned.
The aeronautical design standard, ADS-33E-PRF, covers handling qualities requirements for military rotorcraft. ADS-33E-PRF was developed by a small business for the US Army Aviation and Missile Command Aviation Engineering Directorate primarily with land-based Army helicopter requirements in mind. The document defined handling qualities requirements in a new and innovative way as the first frequency-domain rotorcraft specification. However, naval requirements were not addressed. Unique naval technology areas that need addressing include shipboard handling qualities, VTOL UAVs, and heavy lift rotorcraft design criteria and mission task elements. Shipboard handling quality criteria that were not addressed in ADS-33E-PRF include torque margin criteria, automatic flight control modes, and heave axis damping requirements for shipboard launch and recoveries. UAV design criteria were not addressed in ADS-33E-PRF due to the autonomous nature of their design in which pilots play no role. However, quantitative flying qualities design criteria needs to be more formally established for these vehicles to ensure safe and repeatable operations aboard ship. More detailed heavy lift design criteria are desired in order tailor the ADS-33 specification for the heavy lift replacement (HLR) helicopter. The current version of ADS-33’s cargo helicopter category needs improvement in the area of design criteria for the externally slung load with high load-to-mass ratios. Current limitations in rotorcraft design may result in inadequate ADS-33 bandwidth and phase delay in proposed HLR designs. Implications of these technology shortcomings include increased risk for pilot-induced-oscillations (PIO) and structural concerns due to aeroservoelastic instabilities. New design criteria would have to address technologies available to reduce these risks. Innovative criteria and technical solutions developed in this effort would be incorporated into a user-friendly software package that could be used by rotary-wing handling qualities engineers to evaluate proposed designs against the new criteria.
The Navy stated in early 2005 that the HLR program balances operational and programmatic risks and that delays to the current HLR planned schedule will result in significant additional procurement and operation and support costs to support the CH-53E legacy aircraft and Marine Corps Heavy Lift shortfalls. The Navy noted that the Office of Naval Research endorsed the HLR program initiation at Milestone B and that the approved HLR Technology Readiness Assessment and maturation plan include the application of engineering trade and risk reduction prior to program initiation at Milestone B. It also noted critical technology item maturation events coincide with key system development events such as critical design review and prototype production. As the HLR program matures, risk reduction will continue to be abetted through sustained selection of nondevelopmental technologies, with an emphasis on employment of mature technologies common to Marine, Navy, and DOD weapon systems.
While the CH-53E is designed to carry 16 tons in tropical environments, the HLR would be able to carry 15 tons, but at 3,000 feet and at a temperature of 91.5 degrees. Those features give the replacement almost double the lift capability of the CH-53E. The Marine Corps envisioned having the first such helicopter in the fleet by 2012.
The new HLR will increase current CH-53 gross weight from 74,000 lb to 82,000 lb. It provides an opportunity to roll back the high operating and support costs of the CH-53E with new technology. The CH-53 HLR is now envisioned with a new fuselage 12 in. wider than that of the CH-53E to accommodate C-130-size cargo pallets without the need for repacking.
The HLR will replace aging fleet of CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters to fulfill the Marine Corps’ vertical heavy lift requirement. The aircraft will provide required capabilities, not resident in any other platform, to insert and sustain a credible sea-based force. The HRL will transport 27,000 pounds to distances of 110 nautical miles under most environmental conditions. Its payloads will include armored combat vehicles or two armored High Mobility Multi Wheeled Vehicles per sortie. To sustain the force, the HLR will transport three independent loads tailored to individual receiving unit requirements and provide the critical logistics air connector to facilitate sea-based power projection operations.
The Fiscal Year 2006 Budget requests $272M RDT&E to begin the SDD phase of the HLR program. The program calls for 156 new helicopters based on the CH-53E design. The first delivery is expected in 2014, but the timetable may shift with Defense Department budgets.
On August 25, 2005 Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., Stratford, Conn., was awarded a $43,287,581 cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order against a previously awarded basic ordering agreement (N00019-03-G-0003) to perform requirements definition and engineering studies in support of the Marine Corps’ Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) Program. Work will be performed in Stratford, Conn., and was expected to be completed in April 2006. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md. is the contracting activity.
The FY2006 House defense authorization bill contained a provision (sec. 219) that would prohibit a new program start for a heavy lift helicopter until the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy develop a single, common Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) requirement approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) and the Secretary of Defense. The Senate amendment contained no similar provision.
The 18 December 2005 conference report on the FY2006 Defense Authorization Act authorized the budget request of $271.9 million for the development of the CH-53X Heavy Lift Replacement helicopter program. The Senate receded with an amendment that would exclude the CH-53X Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program from the requirement for a single set of requirements for a heavy lift helicopter. The conferees agreed that the Army and Marine Corps should jointly develop any next generation heavy lift helicopter and that the foundation of any such program must focus on a single, joint requirement validated by the JROC and approved by the Secretary of Defense. However, the conferees also understand that the Army's JHL concept is centered on a rotorcraft capable of lifting a Future Combat System platform, while the Marine Corps' HLR program is intended as a CH-53E follow-on.