The U.S. Marine Corps has once again extended the Kaman/Lockheed Martin K-Max unmanned helicopter trial in Afghanistan for another full year from August 2013. This despite of one of the two aircraft crashing on June 5 at Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, which has left it grounded and in need of extensive repairs. The USMC will continue with one aircraft and have not yet committed funds to repair the second aircraft.
From simple point-to-point delivery of logistics when the K-Max UAS first entered Afghanistan in December 2011, its mission profile has been increasingly widened. “It can now resupply ground troops who throw out a locator beacon while on operations and the aircraft can come to within one meter of that beacon,” said George Barton, vice president of business development, ship and aviation systems, speaking on the first day of the UK’s largest defense show, DSEi, in London (held from September 9 to 12, 2013).
Unmanned K-Max serves the cargo role in Afghanistan.
Barton said that interest was also coming from the U.S. Army, which wants to explore the possibility of mounting EO/IR sensors, landing within a square meter and enter a landing zone using onboard sensors to avoid all possible obstacles and land autonomously. Also under development by Lockheed Martin is a sensor for the cargo hook that will allow the collection of pallets from a landing zone with no human involvement required (something that Barton said is not even done on manned helicopters).
Comments about the K-Max impact on logistics from a slide at DSEi. Photo by Andrew Drwiega
According to Barton, USMC is nearing the point where they want to formalize the K-Max as a program of record, although this is being tempered by the lack of funds through sequestration. Barton said that when this happens there is also likely to be a requirement for a ship-to-ship maritime load transfer capability included in the program.
Related: Unmanned News