MV-22 Osprey Or CH-53K As Marine’s Next “Heavy” Lifter?

By Craig Hooper
Defense Tech Naval Warfare Analyst

In a little-noticed deployment shift, deputy commandant for aviation, Lt. General Trautman told Inside the Navy that the 40-year old CH-53D choppers are retiring before their previously reported FY18 and FY19 sundown dates. Fine. But then Trautman used his July 28 interview to quietly change policy, claiming that MV-22s-not Sikorsky’s new heavy-lift CH-53Ks-were going to replace the CH-53D helos!

What’s with that? What does it mean for the Post-Afghanistan Marine Corps?

Ospreys were originally slated to replace CH-53D “medium lift” helicopters, but at some point in 2007-8, the Marine Corps formally decided replace their aging CH-53Ds with CH-53Ks.

Look at the numbers-The FY 2010 Marine Corps Aviation plan (warning: big .pdf)- suggested the three remaining 10-ship squadrons of CH-53Ds would meld into two “plus-uped” 16-ship CH-53D squadrons in FY11. Those two squadrons would then be among the first to upgrade to the CH-53K in FY18 and 19 (the third squadron, now stripped of aircraft, would go into cadre status and transfer to MV-22s in FY16). So while the Osprey got an extra squadron, the CH-53Ks replaced the Deltas on a one for one basis.

The shift has been pretty sudden. As late as April 13, 2010, Trautman was telling the Senate this:

“The new build CH-53K will replace the current legacy fleet of CH-53D and CH-53E helicopters with an aircraft that provides the performance necessary to support our future warfighting requirements. The CH-53D Sea Stallion and CH-53E Super Stallion provide unparalleled combat heavy lift to the MAGTF and…flying well above their programmed rates in austere, expeditionary conditions.”

But four months later, he’s telling Inside the Navy (no link, sorry) this:

“The key will be, ‘When can I get V-22s ready to replace them [the CH-53Ds]?'” he said. “And by replace them, I mean if Afghanistan continues, right now I have two medium-lift requirements in Afghanistan. What I want to be able to do is get enough V-22 squadrons on the West Coast so I can put a West Coast V-22 side-by-side with an East Coast V-22 in Afghanistan. That’s going to be the pacing. When I can do that, that’ll be the start of getting CH-53 Delta out of the way.”

Well, the planned MV-22 squadrons at Miramar-are set to start coming online in FY 2011 with six coming online by FY 2012.

So what does this all mean for the Marine Corps?

First, if the CH-53Ds go away, won’t that throw off the long-planned “balancing” of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in Hawaii (though the plan has just been “publicly” announced, this has been in the works for a while) Over the course of the next ten years the 24th MAG-a unit currently flying just CH-53Ds, would become a more balanced unit-getting an unmanned aircraft unit, VMU-3 in FY12, a light-attack helicopter unit HMLA-367 in FY12, and two new MV-22 units in FY15 and 16.

But by slashing the CH-53Ds early, the 24th MAG, in essence, loses two squadrons of “heavy/medium” lift helos. All their CH-53s go away.

If that is the case, so much for the “training based” expansion of the 24th MAG to help Hawaii-based Marines “train-as-they-fight”.

Or is it? Might this deployment shift be something of a tip-of-the-hand-showing us where the Marine Corps wants to go post-Afghanistan?

Second, what will happen with the CH-53K? If the 30-odd CH-53Ds vanish, will the CH-53K program of record shrink along with ’em? You’d think that, after passing it’s Critical Design Review in July, Lt. General Trautman would give the CH-53K program some love. But…that’s not the case. Or, despite the good news, is the CH-53K program still having a tough time getting underway?

  • chaos0xomega

    I think this is a pretty good indicator of what the post-Afghanistan Marines will become, but the question is… what is that? With the increased combat radius of the MV-22, it seems that the Marines may be abandoning “Maneuver from the sea” in favor of “Maneuver from the air,” but that has its own problems that makes it seem unlikely (in regards to the anti-access discussion).

    Since they are losing their heavy lift vehicles, maybe that means that they are going to move to more of a maritime security role with a limited ground combat capability? With the Osprey’s longer legs, I could see its utility as a combined maritime surveillance and “interdiction” platform. I.E. - flying patrol over water, identifying, and if need be boarding and searching vessels.

    Or perhaps they wish to adopt more of a “quick reaction force” type role?

    • @Cr4shDummy

      This is something that this site has reported:…

      The USMC wants to get back to amphibious based operations and not be seen as a redundant “second army.”

  • Charley

    The MV-22 is not a heavy lifter, it’s barely a medium lift asset. It seems to me that the Corps is sacrificing the CH-53D/E/K in order to complete its buy of MV-22’s.

  • Thunder350

    Marines have been saying for years they want to go lighter. so there isn’t really all that need for “heavy lift”. Instead they want to be a quick reaction force. Which the MV-22 is. While I’m a supporter of the idea of the MV-22, even replacing the entire fleet of transport helos into tiltrotor. (Its extremely valuable to get troops in and out of hotzones quickly) I think the current MV-22 is flawed and needs redone. In the future I see them being jet powered, but that will be another 10 years probably.

    • DevilPup

      jet powered would be a bad idea, it dosent need to be superfast, and jets would dramatically increas fuel consmption. there is a reason there arent many VTOL jets in service, the tech isnt ready yet.

      • Thunder350

        Not ready yet, that’s why I said give it 10 years. Technology advances every day.. what it’ll be like in 10 years is hard to imagine..

  • Stephen Russell

    Reuse the CH53s for Civil use & upgrade engines for these roles:
    Search Rescue
    USBP Gunship?
    VIP Exec Transport
    Harbor Patrol

    • mike

      53’s cant really be used all that well for S&R, downwash has a bad habit of pushing the victims underwater

      • Charley

        They use them in overland rescues though: Scott O’Grady comes to mind…

  • Craig Hooper

    So, I’ll be devils advocate here: I think, if Israel goes into Iran, that raid will be a real test of the MV-22’s strategic rationale.

    What if Israel goes into Iran-with her old CH-53D variants-and pulls off a success? Would that kinda puncture the strategic justification for the MV-22? Would a failure bolster the MV-22’s case? And maybe make for some foreign sales interest?

    • Stormcharger

      Not at all. Israel has always managed to wring the most out of it’s usually out-dated equipment in the past. It has yet to make the US keep aging aircraft in lieu of a more modern and expensive one.

      • Craig Hooper


        So true, stormcharger, so very, very true….

  • Chesty

    The CH-53Ds were supposed to retire in 2006, but remain because of the V-22 disaster. It seems that Trautman is about to retire and cash in a Boeing, so he is selling out, like all former MarineAir Generals. The CH-53K is the same size as the V-22, but can carry five time more payload and has greater range. What to do?

    • Craig Hooper

      Um…Buy Textron stock?

  • Terrance

    CH53k is too useful not be in the US military. If the USMC don’t want it, the Army should buy them. The US and world needs more helicopters in general, and the payload from this beast will be needed. The V22 to me, seems like it should be like a Ferrari, as in break it out and go fast on the weekends, and then the C53 should be the daily SUV.

  • William C.

    While I still question if the cost and was worth it, in my mind the V-22 is maturing into a useful platform for moving marines (if not heavy cargo). Yet sometimes you just need something big. Like the C-5 when it comes to fixed-wing aircraft or the CH-53K when it comes to helicopters. It may not be pretty and very-easy to maintain, but it can move what you ask it to.

  • Jeff Fraser

    I was going to post, but then I saw this comment which is saying almost exactly what I was going to say. Except maybe keep a few CH53D’s just in case.

    • Jeff Fraser

      *CH53K’s, my mistake.

  • DevilPup

    this is pretty simple, replacing the CH-53K with the osprey is dumb. the MV-22 is Medium, not heavy lift capability. while the fact it’s faster and can go further is great, it still cant lift some thing the large choppers can. replacing the 53D with osprey’s is great, but you need a heavy lift helicopter to move the heavy stuff, its not hard to grasp.

    • Chesty

      That is Bell spin. You can’t compare the V-22 with the CH-53K because the K can lift five times more, so its “heavy” lift while the V-22 is “medium lift”, even if they are the same size. The CH-53K has much more range the V-22, even the Marine Corps admits that. Keep in mind that the V-22 specs you see are old goals. The V-22 demonstrates only half that payload and range. Lifts a max of 6000 lbs, with no more range that modern helos, and only around 40% more speed. This is why the Army nor any other nation nor any airline wants the V-22.

    • Greg

      Did you read the article? He said only replace the ch53ds’, not the entire fleet. The ds’ were to originally be replaced by the osprey anyways. They still want Ks’ to replace the Es’

      • PMI

        Shh, don’t harsh the conspiracy nuts’ buzzes!!

  • Harold

    The way I understand the article, is that the only CH-53’s that will be replaced by the Osprey will be the Delta’s. The remainder (all of the current CH-53E’s) will be replaced by CH-53K’s.

  • chas

    Everyone in Marine Aviation knows the Corps is better off with more superior CH-53Ks rather than faulty V-22s, whose design is 30 years old and are broke down most the time. The Generals decided to quietly alter long-range plans to replace most CH-53Ds in Hawaii with CH-53Ks, and the planned buy was upped from 165 to 200. However, someone noticed the change and publicly asked if this means the Corps will wisely end its buy of V-22s earlier, at less than the 360 planned. The Generals decided to backtrack to the original plan so as not to upset their future employers at Bell or Boeing.

    Meanwhile, the Navy has no plans for the 48 V-22 that the Marines insist it must buy because it expressed interest a decade ago. The Navy chose the MH-60S Knighthawk instead,which can lift as much as a V-22 even though its one-third its size, way back in 1999. So will the Marines get these extra Navy MV-22s to replace those production models that have been quietly scrapped due to flaws? Will Congress notice that the Corps is funding a V-22 SLEP for its older V-22s, hidden as “upgrades.”?

  • William C.

    And the V-22 derangement syndrome infected crazies come out of the woodwork. The V-22 has had problems over the years but where do you get some of these “facts”?

  • Bob

    Maybe the Marines should leave airframe procurement and testing to the Navy. Thats where the expertise is. Then the USMC could concentrat on things like small arms, arty, armour etc.

    • jhm

      um, isnt the marines main transportation on to the beaches and beyond helos?

  • John

    Purchasing the MV-22 was a mistake. At over $100 Million/copy the Marine Corps developed and bought cadillacs when it needed Broncos. It shouldn’t do something goofy like ditching the Kilo for the Osprey…Stop the production line now, buy H-60’s and outfit a V/HMM composite squadron. The Generals sold us out buying that thing…