ATSUGI, Japan – Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Western Pacific will continue to provide the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps depot-level aviation maintenance support for one of the world’s largest helicopters, the H-53.
With contracting support from Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Yokosuka, long time commercial aviation partner Korean Air Lines was awarded the eight year, $278 million maintenance contract to service the Sikorsky-made CH-53E Super Stallion and MH-53E Sea Dragon aircraft.
The newly awarded contract allows FRC Western Pacific to meet the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) mission requirements for the Asia Pacific area of responsibility (AOR) by supplementing a qualified local commercial partner to fill the void of an organic maintenance workforce. Repairing aircraft in-theatre provides the NAE mission partners with significant benefits; a fast-tracked aircraft turnaround time that accelerates fleet readiness and considerable cost savings by reducing transportation requirements and aircraft down-time. FRC Western Pacific implements this same responsive maintenance strategy on military aircraft all across the world, as the Navy’s sole aviation maintenance depot outside the United States.
“The H-53 is a workhorse of an aircraft for both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, so it’s important that we get these powerful machines repaired, safely tested, and back into service as quickly as possible,” stated FRC Western Pacific commanding officer, Cmdr. Randy J. Berti. “Korean Air Lines has a proven track record meeting required maintenance timelines with exceptional craftsmanship, so it is reassuring to know that FRCWP will have a quality maintenance partner on the H-53 production line for the better part of the next decade.”
Korean Air Lines has been working on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps H-53 aircraft in the Pacific dating all the way back to 1989. To date, Korean Air Lines has performed maintenance or modification on more than 3,500 military aircraft and has developed into a major U.S. military maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) entity in the Asia Pacific region.
The majority of the work performed under this contract will be allotted to the Marine Corps due to the larger roster of in-service aircraft. According to the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) program management office (PMA-261), there are 142 Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions and 30 Navy MH-53E Sea Dragons currently in inventory. Often deployed aboard naval amphibious assault vessels, the CH-53E’s main mission troop transport and heavy-lift cargo missions due to its capability of being able to lift every Marine Corps aircraft except for the KC-130.
“The CH-53E has seen more work than was ever anticipated it would see,” said Lt Col. Matthew “Rusty” Baumann, NAVAIR PMA-261 in-service lead in an article earlier this year. “In fact, the aircraft reached a major milestone last year by logging more than one million flight hours since it first entered service with the Marine Corps in 1981.”
Aircraft maintenance is a necessary service required at predetermined intervals to sustain the fleet and meet military readiness levels. The Marine Corps CH-53E fleet will eventually be replaced with the new heavy-lift helicopter, the CH-53K King Stallion. The new CH-53K King Stallion is the most powerful helicopter ever built by the U.S. military and is scheduled to begin service in the 2023-24 timeframe.