Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin
Lawmakers want the U.S. Navy to consider buying a CH-53K King Stallion variant as a mine-hunting replacement for legacy MH-53E Sea Dragons, according to the U.S. Senate’s version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.
Within 90 days of the NDAA’s passage, the Navy is asked to submit a report on the “feasibility and impact of recapitalizing the MH–53E fleet with a derivative of CH-53K that would address its use in airborne mine countermeasures missions and additional missions of conducting vertical onboard delivery and transporting personnel and cargo.”
Sikorsky delivered the first CH-53Ks to the Marine Corps in May. That service is buying about 200 of the heavy-lift helicopters to replace its fleet of CH-53E Super Stallions.
“The Committee recognizes that the CH-53K helicopter currently being built for the Marine Corps would be a logical option that might replace the capability that would be lost with the retirement of the Navy’s MH-53E fleet,” the report says.
The MH-53E’s primary mission is to provide airborne mine countermeasures (MCM), which takes on increased importance as the threat of anti-ship mines — difficult to detect and defuse or destroy — proliferates, according to SASC.
Some of the MH-53E’s mine-hunting duties will be assigned to the Littoral Combat Ship, but the objective fleet size for LCS is less than adequate to protect the Navy’s desired 355-ship surface force, the report says.
Then-chief of Naval Air Systems Command Vice Admiral Paul A. Grosklags in March testified before a Senate panel on military aviation that ‘‘the MH-53E will continue to perform its primary mission of airborne mine countermeasures as well as transport of cargo and personnel until it is replaced by the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).’’
Since the committee has been concerned about maintaining mine countermeasures capability, the committee has recommended legislation that has continued to delay the retirements of the MCM-1 mine countermeasures ships and the MH-53E helicopters until the Navy comes up with a suitable replacement and the called-for quantity of MCM systems meets operational requirements.