What if it was called the CH-55? Transformation in the Vertical Heavy Lift Fleet


By Robbin Laird

To the casual observer, the Super Stallion and the King Stallion look like the same aircraft.

One of the challenges in understanding how different the CH-53K is from the CH-53E is the numbering part.

If it were called CH-55 perhaps one would get the point that these are very different air platforms, with very different capabilities.

What they have in common, by deliberate design, is a similar logistical footprint, so that they could operate similarly off of amphibious ships or other ships in the fleet for that matter.

But the CH-53 is a mechanical aircraft, which most assuredly the CH-55 (aka as the CH-53K) is not.

In blunt terms, the CH-55 (aka as the CH-53K) is faster, carries more kit, can distribute its load to multiple locations without landing, is built as a digital aircraft from the ground up and can leverage its digitality for significant advancements in how it is maintained, how it operates in a task force, how it can be updated, and how it could work with unmanned systems or remotes.

These capabilities taken together create a very different lift platform than is the legacy CH-53E. In a strategic environment where force mobility is informing capabilities across the combat spectrum, it is hard to understate the value of a lift platform, notably one which can talk and operate digitally, in carving out new tactical capabilities with strategic impacts.

The lift side of the equation within a variety of environments can be stated succinctly. The King Stallion will lift 27,000 lbs. external payload, deliver it 110 nm to a high-hot zone, loiter, and return to the ship with fuel to spare.   What that means is JLTV’s (22,600-lb.), up-armored HMMWV, and other heavier tactical cargos go to shore by air, rather than by LCAC or other slower sea lift means.  For less severe ambient conditions or shorter distances than this primary mission, the 53K can carry up to 36,000 lbs.

With ever increasing lift requirements and advancing threats in the battlefield, there is no other vertical lift aircraft available that meets emerging heavy lift needs. There are a lot of platforms that can blow things up or kill people, but for heavy lift, the CH-53K is the only option.

For the Marines, this is a core enabling capability. The CH-53K is equipped with a triple external hook system, which will be a significant external operations enabler for the Marine Air Ground Task Force.  The single, dual and triple external cargo hook capability allows for the transfer of three independent external loads to three separate supported units in three separate landing zones in one single sortie without having to return to a ship or other logistical hub.

The external system can be rapidly reconfigured between dual point, single point loads, and triple hook configurations in order to best support the ground scheme of maneuver.

All three external hooks can be operated independently supporting true distributed operations. For example, three infantry companies widely dispersed across the battlefield can be rapidly resupplied with fuel, ammo, water or other supplies directly at their location—during the same sortie—eliminating the requirement for the helicopter to make multiple trips or for cargo from a helicopter to be transloaded to ground vehicles for redistribution—saving ground vehicle fuel and MAGTF exposure to ground threats.

The CH-53K’s triple external hook system is a new capability for the Marine Corps and an improvement in capability and efficiency over the legacy aircraft it replaces making it a game changer for providing heavy lift in support of combat, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief operations, notably in a distributed operational space.

The CH-53K design integrates the latest technologies to meet the USMC requirement for triple the lift of the predecessor Super Stallion while still maintaining the size and footprint to remain compatible with today’s ships and strategic air transport…

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