K-MAX Ready for an Extended Stay

Unmanned cargo helicopter continues to deliver; Marines extend its deployment until end of fiscal year

K-MAX Since deploying to Afghanistan in December, the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter has delivered more than one million pounds of supplies to forward operating bases for the Marines. Above, one of the two K-MAX helicopters waits to be refueled before taking off on another mission. Photo courtesy USMC.

The U.S. Marines want the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter to hang around Afghanistan for a while longer.

The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) recently announced its desire to extend K-MAX’s in-theater assessment period until the end of the U.S. government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.

In December, the Marines began using two K-MAX unmanned aircraft developed by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace to resupply forward operating bases. In just four months, K-MAX has delivered more than one million pounds of cargo, while maintaining an overall 95 percent mission availability rate.

“K-MAX has proven its value to us in-theater, enabling us to safely deliver cargo to forward areas,” said Marine Corps Maj. Kyle O’Connor, who is overseeing the deployment. “We can move cargo without putting any Marines, soldiers or airmen at risk. If we had a fleet of these things flying 24-7, we could move cargo around and not put people in jeopardy.”

The Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1, Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft System Detachment arrived in theater in the fall of 2011 and was operating in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility by the end of the year.  The first unmanned resupply mission was flown on Dec. 17 and delivered approximately 3,500 pounds of cargo, as the Marines sought to reduce the risk of insurgent attacks and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on truck convoys and the soldiers protecting them.

K-MAX features Kaman’s proven high-altitude, heavy-lift K-1200 airframe and Lockheed Martin’s mission management and control systems, enabling autonomous flight in remote environments over large distances. The helicopter can fly day or night and at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary wing unmanned aerial system. With its four-hook carousel, K-MAX can also supply multiple locations in one flight.

The U.S. Army is also exploring the use of unmanned air cargo resupply and awarded Lockheed Martin and Kaman a $47 million contract in 2011 to develop, demonstrate and deliver a system using K-MAX. Several NATO allies also have expressed interest in the K-MAX system.

Posted May 9, 2012