The U.S. Marine Corps have ordered the first four production model CH-53K helicopters. Each of these will cost $109 million. Later production models will be cheaper. The first four will begin arriving in 2016, and a year later the testing will begin. Meanwhile, the prototype CH-53K will fly for the first time next year. The first CH-53Ks will not enter service until 2018. The marines want to buy 200 CH-53Ks, for about $115 million each (including over a decade of development, and this about what it costs for the MV-22). Development took so long because the marines did not have enough cash to keep building the new V-22 while also keeping CH-53K development on schedule. Technical problems were blamed for the CH-53K delays but it was later revealed that the marines didn't want to take money away from their MV-22 program to keep the CH-53K program on schedule. It’s all about limited resources and aging equipment.
A year ago the marines finally retired the last of its CH-53D transport helicopters. Introduced in the late 1960s, 124 were built before production stopped in 1972. The CH-53D was to be replaced by 348 MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. But delays in that program, and a reduction in the number of V-22s to be built, led to the CH-53K. While the CH-53K is a better cargo hauler, the MV-22 moves twice as fast and the marines have found that to be a major advantage in combat. But the MV-22 is more expensive to operate and the marines cannot afford to buy and operate all the MV-22s they need to replace older helicopters.
Six years ago the marines began working on an updated version of the CH-53E (which entered service in the early 1980s), the CH-53K. This version is sixteen percent heavier (at 42.3 tons) than the CH-53E and able to carry nearly twice as much (13.5 tons). The CH-53K will be much easier to maintain and cost about half as much per flight hour to operate.