The USMC is very happy with their V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor for its speed and durability, but it is still far more expensive than ordinary helicopters. As a result of the high individual cost of V-22’s, the USMC is having to buy upgraded CH-53 helicopters to carry some of the burden:
The U.S. Marine Corps recently admitted that the lifetime cost of operating their new V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had increased 64 percent over the last three years (to $121.5 billion). Although the marines MV-22s have flown over 100,000 hours in Afghanistan and have an excellent safety and reliability record, they are very expensive. With major cuts in the defense budget coming, there is pressure to cease production of the MV-22, and put more money into cheaper helicopters. That is already happening.
Four years ago the U.S. Marine Corps began working on an updated version of their heavy, CH-53E, transport helicopters. The new version was the CH-53K. First flight of a CH-53K was to take place this year, with first CH-53Ks entering service in 2015. But now this has all been delayed. First flight won’t take place until 2013, and the CH-53K won’t enter service until 2018. Technical problems are blamed, although helicopter advocates imply that the marines don’t want to take money away from their MV-22 program to keep the CH-53K program on schedule.
There is still a lot of enthusiasm for the CH-53K. Two years ago, the marines decided to replace their elderly CH-53Ds with CH-53Ks, rather than the more expensive MV-22s. The CH-53K was to cost about $27 million each, compared to about three times that for an MV-22. However, delaying the introduction of the CH-53K will cost over a billion dollars, and add about $5 million to the cost of each CH-53K. Replacing the CH-53Ds means more CH-53Ks, for a total of about 200. It’s expected that the final costs of the CH-53D will be higher, but still about half the cost of an MV-22.
Image from Sikorsky website.