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The Marines' New Heavy-Lift Helicopter Now Costs More Than The F-35
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II is, without a doubt, the most expensive fighter craft in military history. Early production F-35A fighters clocked in at a whopping $130 million as of 2016, according to Popular Mechanics, and the Marine Corps’ order for the F-35B vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) variant will likely end up somewhere around $122.8 million.
Well, Lockheed’s latest project makes the F-35 look like a used Camry. Meet the CH-53K King Stallion, the brand-new $138 million helicopter — and officially now the most expensive aircraft in the Pentagon’s arsenal.
On April 4, the Department of Defense finally approved the King Stallion for use as the Marine Corps’ brand-new heavy-lift helicopter. But Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that the official decision memo for the first run of 26 copters, signed by DoD weapons buyer James MacStravic, came with a nasty surprise: a hidden price increase of 6.9% to $31 billion for 200 helicopters.
That overall cost-hike ended up increasing the DoD’s “program acquisition unit cost” estimate from $131.2 million in August 2016... to a whopping $138.5 million today. As Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services subcommittee, put it, that’s “a heck of a lot of money.”
To be fair, the King Stallion looks like one heck of a machine, able to haul three times the cargo of the long-lived Lockheed Super Stallion helo without any major change in dimensions. Here's what Task & Purpose's Brian Jones wrote of the new heavy-lift copter in March:
When I was in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012, the CH-53 was so critical to combat operations it was the only squadron the Marine Corps kept two iterations of. The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) had a CH-53E Super Stallion squadron and a CH-53D Sea Stallion squadron. But both versions of the aircraft were decades old, but were incredibly busy across the theater of operations. Those platforms desperately need to be upgraded.
The new CH-53K King Stallion certainly seems to be an excellent iterative development of this combat-tested and combat-proven platform. The new helicopter can hoist an external payload of more than 27,000 pounds, more than triple what the CH-53E could do. The old version, the CH-53E, was just barely too thin to hold a Humvee in its fuselage, the new helicopter can hold a Humvee.
But the skyrocketing cost of the King Stallion is enough to give even the most overzealous weapons-buyer pause. As Popular Mechanics points out, the CH-53K only cost a somewhat reasonable (lol) $56 million in 2003 — although, as of 2013, research and development costs had expanded to encompass nearly 25% of the program’s total cost.
But rising program costs probably aren’t the problem. After all, Bloomberg reports that in a March interview, Lockheed’s CFO cited the CH-53K’s “revenue potential” as the primary factor motivating the company’s purchase of the Sikorsky helicopter unit in 2015. Hey, a few million here, a few million there — pretty soon, we’re talking about real money.
Then again, the King Stallion could end up being worth every penny. "There’s a lot of hay being made about the CH-53K becoming the U.S. military’s most expensive helicopter," as Jones wrote in March. "Shouldn’t the largest and most technologically advanced helicopter in the U.S. military arsenal also be the most expensive?"
A Marine wanted for killing his mother's boyfriend reportedly escaped police by hiding inside an RV they'd spent hours searching before towing it to a parking lot, where he escaped under the cover of darkness.
It wasn't until more than two weeks later authorities finally caught up to Michael Brown at his mom's home, which was the scene of the crime.
Brown stuffed himself into a tight spot in his camper during an hours-long search of the vehicle on Nov. 10, according to NBC affiliate WSLS in Virginia. A day earlier, cops said Brown fatally shot his mother's boyfriend, Rodney Brown. The AWOL Marine remained on the lam until Nov. 27, where he was finally apprehended without incident.
No motive is yet known for last week's Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting tragedy, which appears to have been a random act of violence in which the sailor who fatally shot two civilian workers and himself did not know them and did not plan his actions ahead of time, shipyard commander Capt. Greg Burton said in an "All Hands" message sent out Friday.
Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of San Antonio, an armed watch-stander on the attack submarine USS Columbia, shot three civilian workers Dec. 4 and then turned a gun on himself while the sub rested in dry dock 2 for a major overhaul, the Navy said.
"The investigation continues, but there is currently no known motive and no information to indicate the sailor knew any of the victims," Burton said.
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at "restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.", state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.
The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.
Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.
In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.
"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, the controversial private security executive and prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, made a secret visit to Venezuela last month and met Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro's closest and most outspoken allies, according to five sources familiar with the matter.