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April 4 (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp received Pentagon approval on Tuesday to begin production of 200 new heavy cargo helicopters for the U.S. Marines, the Department of Defense said.
The long-expected award for the CH-53K King Stallion will on average cost $87 million each and $105 million including spare parts and certain service contracts, a Defense Department official had told Reuters last week.
The approval of the $27 billion program, which includes more than $6 billion in research and development costs, is a major milestone for the largest U.S. defense contractor.
The new helicopter, developed by Lockheed's Sikorsky helicopter business, can lift 36,000 pounds and would replace the CH-53E Super Stallion, which has operated as the backbone of field logistics for the U.S. Marines since the mid-1980s.
The first four helicopters are scheduled for delivery next year, with another two to follow, the Defense Department said.
The Marine Corps intends to transition eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron from CH-53E to CH-53K, according to the statement. (Reporting by Komal Khettry in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D'Silva)