Recently a news broke about the price for the CH-53K King Stalion which is developed for the Marine Corps.
I wouldn’t like to write essays about the roots of this situation so let’s move straight to the point. It’s starting price would be 95 million dollars but due to some up-tick in the development costs it could rise even to 122 million dollars.
Is this much?
In these days almost every military program is over budget. I don’t understand how it’s possible but that’s the way things are. Judging from the 14% rise of the initial price it would be somehow in a acceptable limit. The thing is that it sums up to the 122 million dollars per helicopters. Now that is a lot of money and I mean a lot of money. Even the F-35A costs less if we look at the latest Lot. It is even more than the F-35B or F-35C.
Can we even compare those two machines? On one side we have a brand new project and on the other a new version of a well proven machine. Of course one can argue that the CH-53K is a highly modified and advanced helicopter and it has little in common with it’s predecessor but still… 122 million US dollars. Both machines are designed for different missions but if we think about it the CH-53K is a work horse not a super stealthy jet fighter which is supposed to overcome the enemies defense, drop some armament and fly away without anyone noticing it. The ordered numbers might make the difference as Marines want only 200 of the CH-53K and the F-35 will be build in numbers exceeding 2000.
If we take the unit price after entering full rate production it is estimated to be 89 million which would also be more than the F-35A in full rate production (85 million $).
Is this an issue?
Well to keep things simple no and yes. If everything goes well and it will do it’s job for the next 40+ years it might not be a bad investment but what if all of the nightmares come true and we will have a brawl in the Pacific? What if they will start to be shot down. You know… At war enemies tend to destroy our equipment. If we look at it from this perspective this is a lot of money to be shot down and it’s main mission is to transport things from one place to an other. Of course it’s transport capacity is enormous but still… A lot of money and a tasty target for a rocket shot by one man standing somewhere in the bushes.
Is something wrong?
Well the answer is NO. There isn’t anything wrong. Things tend to cost a lot these days. Sometimes a lot more than we would think. To be honest I can’t see a way out of this circle. The government or the army wants more and more sophisticated equipment so the development costs go up and the baseline price goes up. This is called progress. The good old days of P-51 produced in great quantities are long over. Today the user wants to have a ton of equipment integrated into a one big machine which will serve for 40+ years with a smooth upgrade path it its life cycle. We might be mad at the situation but that’s how things look like if we look at them from a bigger perspective. There is no good solution. Either we can roll back to some bare bone machines with very limited capabilities or we have to accept that advanced and well manufactured things tend to cost a lot of money.