June 28 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky division will build nine more CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters for the U.S. Marine Corps, the Navy Air Systems Command said.
The $878.7 million contract, announced in a statement on Friday, includes an option to build and deliver nine more of the aircraft at a lower price.
The helicopters are part of a plan to build 33 of the helicopters, known as "King Stallions," for the Marine Corps.
Three have already been delivered, and Sikorsky will begin deliveries of the nine additional aircraft in 2024, a company statement said.
The three-engine helicopter is designed for lifting heavy cargo, and is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the U.S. military.
It is a redesign of the CH-53E model, with new engines allowing twice the lift capacity of the previous model, as well as higher speed and an improved internal layout, making it capable of carrying a Humvee vehicle within the helicopter.
"The CH-53K will further support the U.S. Marine Corps in its mission to conduct expeditionary heavy-lift assault transport of armored vehicles, equipment and personnel to support distributed operations deep inland from a sea-based center of operations, critical in the Indo-Pacific region," the Sikorsky statement said.
The capabilities of the first three King Stallions are currently under examination by Marine Corps' Operational Test and Evaluation squadron at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., a statement by the Naval Air Systems Command, known as NAVAIR, said on Friday.
Initial Operational Test and Evaluation will begin in July, it added.