A Recent Engine Fire In One Of IDF’s Aging CH-53 Sea Stallion Helicopters Highlights Israel’s Dilemma And Urgency In Choosing A Replacement

The time to make a decision on the new generation of heavy lift helicopters for the Israel Air Force is indisputably upon us

Israel Air Force CH-53D “Yas’ur” in flight
Copyright: Oren Rozen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

It has now been three days since an engine fire in an Israeli Air Force CH-53D “Yas’ur” helicopter caused the crew to perform a hard landing in the fields of a nearby kibbutz. While the crew’s professionalism as the engine caught fire and the availability of a nearby empty space for a crash landing helped avoid any human casualties, the helicopter was destroyed and the rest of the CH-53D fleet had been grounded by the Air Force commander until the causes of the crash can be determined.

The problem goes well beyond the current incident. CH-53D Sea Stallions (IDF denomination “Yas’ur) have been the mainstay of Israeli Air Force heavy lifting since they were first adopted by it exactly 50 years ago and are now operating well beyond their intended lifespan. The engineers of the IAF maintenance wing have been doing everything to keep them flying, but it is well understood that the final deadline for their decommissioning is less than five years away.

The process of choosing a replacement is a lengthy one and it has been dragging on for years, but the most recent incident is likely to prove an accelerant. Under consideration are the venerable Chinook CH-47 helicopters that have long been in service with the American and NATO militaries and the newer CH-53K King Stallions.

Both have distinct advantages and disadvantages and for both the procurement process will not end with the choice of either one of them. Beyond the budgeting and procurement process, there will be a lengthy engineering effort to equip the new helicopters with Israeli proprietary technology and adapt them to service in the IDF.

Things in the military get done when they absolutely must and not a second earlier, but it appears that when it comes to next generation heavy lift helicopters for the IAF, that time had finally come.

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