U.S. Marines, Sikorsky eye contract for more CH-53K helicopters soon

BERLIN (Reuters) - The U.S. Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin Corp’s Sikorsky unit expect to finalize a contract for six more CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters in the coming months, they said on Friday.

A Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter is seen in Berlin, Germany, April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The deal could be worth around $700 million to the company, covering the cost of the new aircraft and a range of support work, including the creation of a new maintenance depot, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Colonel Hank Vanderborght, who manages the CH-53K program for the U.S. Marines, told reporters at the ILA Berlin Air Show the new aircraft was performing well in testing.

He said he expected to finalize a contract with Sikorsky over the next batch of six aircraft in the coming months, raising the number of aircraft ordered to 14, out of the 200 that the Marines plan to buy in total.

“We have eight aircraft on contract ... and we have six more being negotiated right now with Sikorsky to be on contract very shortly, probably within the next few months,” he said.

Sikorsky has also received advanced funding to order components and parts that take a long time to procure for a third batch of seven aircraft, the sources said. Negotiations on that contract will likely begin toward the end of 2018.

The Marines say they are on track to declare an initial four CH-5in 3K heavy-lift helicopters ready for combat use as planned in December 2019.

The CH-53K, which offers three times the carrying power of its predecessor, made its international debut at the Berlin show on Wednesday after being transported to Germany in a C-17 transport plane.

Germany will choose between the CH-53K and Boeing Co’s smaller, twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook to replace its ageing fleet of CH-53G heavy-lift helicopters, an order valued at around 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).

The German defense ministry expects to release a formal request for proposals in the second half of 2018, with a contract award due in mid-2020, for deliveries to start in 2023.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter