The current and best example of unmanned cargo aircraft for the military: K-MAX (VIDEO)

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are moving beyond experimenting with the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter and are taking steps to add the aircraft to their fleets, industry officials said at the Paris Air Show.

The Marines have flown the K-MAX for the past 18 months in Afghanistan, completing about 1,300 missions to mostly positive reviews. Marine officials have lauded the unmanned cargo aircraft for its ability to cut down on the number of ground convoys needed to resupply units spread throughout southwest Afghanistan.

The K-MAX can carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. In one day, the aircraft flew 30,000 pounds of cargo in the course of six missions.

Congress has taken notice of the success the K-MAX has enjoyed and included language in recent legislation encouraging the Army to create a cargo UAS development program similar to the Marine Corps’.

Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace teamed up to develop K-MAX. Officials from both companies said the Marine Corps and Army have started the processes towards making the K-MAX a program of record for the services.

The Marines sent K-MAX to Afghanistan in November 2011 more or less as an experiment. Officials on both sides didn’t know for sure how well the cargo UAS could perform, but ground commanders needed help resupplying the units scattered across the Afghanistan mountainous landscape.

Army officials have closely observed the program. Army leaders are included in many of the feedback sessions on K-MAX’s performance that Lockheed and Kaman officials provide to the Marine Corps.The Army has since developed a concept of operations for a cargo UAS program, which is one of the first steps towards creating a set of requirements for the program.

In May, the House Armed Services Committee urged the Army to boost its efforts toward adding a cargo UAS program. Lawmakers want the Army to estimate the cost to buy, operate and sustain a cargo UAS program similar to K-MAX. The panel also wants details on how a cargo UAS program would fit into the Army’s larger logistical structure.


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