Army content to sit on cargo UAS sidelines

Lockheed's K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopters continue to impress while hauling Marine Corps gear around Afghanistan.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Army aviation leaders have paid close attention to the Lockheed Martin controllers who have flown about 750,000 pounds of cargo for Marines in Afghanistan since Dec. 17 aboard the company’s K-MAX unmanned helicopter.

The service, however, remains non-committal to the program saying it will only continue to observe the program. Marine officials, on the other hand, continue to embrace the cargo helicopters that keep convoys off the road and manned helicopters free to fly Marines around the battlefield.

Lockheed Martin sent two K-MAX helicopters to southern Afghanistan that have already flown more than 250 missions. The unmanned helicopters flew over 14,000 pounds of cargo in just one day.

The K-MAX helicopters will stay in Afghanistan as long as the Marine Corps wants them, said Jeanine Matthews, Lockheed Martin’s business development director for Integrated Defense Technologies. Lockheed Martin is running on a month-to-month lease for the unmanned helicopters.

Lockheed Martin controllers fly almost all of the missions, but Marines have learned how they operate by watching, Matthews said. The development of the K-MAX continues, but a formal training program has not yet been developed for Marines to start flying them without the help of contractors.

The Army has not contacted Lockheed Martin to set up an agreement to lease the K-MAX to deliver cargo in Afghanistan for Army units, Matthews said. Last year, engineers at the Army’s Maneuver Battle Lab held a series of user assessments on the K-MAX at Fort Benning, Ga., in the Annual Expeditionary Warrior Experiment.

It appears the Army still wants to know what the defense industry can deliver. Service acquisition officials released in January a request for information for a cargo UAS that can travel 250 knots with a range of 300 nautical miles that can carry up to 8,000 pounds.

Army plans outline a strategy to deliver a cargo UAS in seven to ten years. Some questioned at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference here whether that timeline should be accelerated if the K-MAX continue to perform well.