It now seems likely that the U.S. government will review and purchase a new helicopter, designed to transport heavy cargo on behalf of the Marine Corps, in a program said to be worth as much as $29 million, from Lockheed Martin Corp. According to the same source, the helicopters will cost $144 million each, an additional 4 percent more than what the military projected. The aircraft will be capable of assisting the military with its ability to lift armored personnel carriers, and presumably any other loads of similar and substantial weight. Two of the aircraft the contract initially covered are capable of lifting an astonishing 27,000 pounds. The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopters are still in the development stage but will make their first international debut at the Ila Berlin Air Show in Berlin, Germany. The airshow is expected to commence at ExpoCenter Airport and lasts from the 25th of April to the 29th.
A new report provided to Congress detailed an updated estimate made by The Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office. Due to the need to begin thorough combat testing before the aircraft can qualify for full and final production, there will be a delay, amounting to approximately one year, pushing the date back to 2020. Additionally, the Cost Office also believes that the aircraft will be unable to reach its “initial combat capability” until 2020, in December. The Cost Office usually makes predictions about delays from the projections conveyed through the military by using a combination of past data and examples of programs with the known operational capacities of present aircraft.
Some politicians are viewing this as a lavish expense. Democratic Representative Niki Tsongas seemed to scrutinize the cost of the units, which, back in March, were estimated at $122 million per unit as opposed to the updated price of $144 million. Tsongas further pointed out that the cost of each of these units exceeded even that of the program for the cutting edge F-35. The worry is that this will produce yet another burden on taxpayers who already contribute to the United States’ large defense budget. Because the United States remains the world’s biggest spender on defense per capita, those worried about taxpayers may want to keep an eye on programs like these.
Other road bumps for Lockheed include the drop in oil prices. This has stemmed from offshore oil drilling and undermined the demand for large helicopters, which are used by the industry to transport people and/or heavy loads. In 2014, sales of commercial helicopters yielded upward of one billion dollars in profits, compared to the expected $300 million in revenue for 2017. The Marines and possibly the Navy (if they request more aircraft capable of carrying heavier loads) will be Lockheed’s preeminent customers. From this deal, the King Stallion’s should produce upwards of $500 million for Lockheed, according to one defense analyst at Jefferies. In short, the commercial market pales in comparison to that of the military for Lockheed. Lockheed has been facing a tough contest in the commercial sphere with the Boeing CH-47, which has been widely used for several decades.
In short, the aircraft seems impressive in terms of its carrying capacity and benefits to our military. The main concern is the hefty price, coupled with Lockheed’s growing reliance on U.S military branches’ demand for units of heavy-lifting helicopters to generate profits.