Thursday, October 28, 2010
Trials of an unmanned K-MAX now reach back over a decade to mid-2000 when Kaman was contracted by the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) to convert one of its K-MAX medium-lift helicopters to an unmanned aircraft as part of the Broad-area Unmanned Responsive Resupply Operations, or BURRO, program. This is a two part question:
R&W: Why has it taken so long for customers to believe in – and fund the development of – this capability?
Tattershall: You would have to ask the potential customers for specifics but we believe there has always been a level of Department of Defense (DoD) interest—BURRO has been under DoD developmental funding since its inception. As we all know the Global War On Terror (GWOT) has been a priority for DoD funding—now within Afghanistan the infrastructure and operating altitudes pose unique resupply challenges which the Cargo UAS can address. The DoD is focusing on deploying this capability now.
R&W: Can you briefly describe how the K-MAX Burro of today differs in technology and capability from the Burro of 2000 (the Burro was lifting 6,000lb in 1998, why has that capability not improved in a decade?).
Tattershall: BURRO Lift capability is based on the FAA certified K-Max airframe so it may not change appreciably until a new or significantly modified VTOL airframe is developed. There has been technology growth of the BURRO in terms of reliability of the autonomous systems, improved ground station capabilities, improved mission planning, improved communications and expanded envelopes for operations in winds and at high altitudes. The Lockheed-Kaman team have matured and demonstrated this technology convincingly within the last 3 years, including capabilities for delivering cargo resupply to multiple locations during a single mission sortie and the addition of an aux fuel tank to extend the K-MAX UAS range.
R&W: What was the effect on Kaman in 2004 when the US Army withdrew funding for the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft (UCAR), then a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program? Where do you feel Kaman would be today if that funding had continued?
Tattershall: Primarily industry efforts have matured it. To clarify, the cargo UAS resupply is a different mission compared to the UCAR. For Kaman, this was an opportunity to adapt and improve the intermeshing rotor system for the team’s UCAR platform—in terms of speed, reliability, supportability, cost of ownership and survivability. Had that particular opportunity been completed under the UCAR program, we would today be demonstrating, with our UCAR team, a very significant improved autonomous VTOL capability in terms of speed, survivability and other improvements.
R&W: Moving to today, please explain the significance of the USMC ‘Immediate Cargo UAS’ trials to Kaman. Should Team K-MAX be successful, what would be the timelines for the further development and production of K-MAX aircraft, considering there is no current production line in operation. When do you envisage an IoC then FoC for the USMC?
Tattershall: Consider the trial period as an assessment by the U.S. Marine Corps for solving the resupply need without exposing human risk. Team K-MAX has three aircraft available that can be rapidly missionized as an unmanned aerial system (UAS) by the end of 2010, with an additional two to three aircraft available for deployment in 2011. In addition, we have an aircraft dedicated to development and mission enhancements, so further development can be done in parallel to any production or equipping of current assets. Kaman has been supporting the commercial K-MAX helicopters with spare parts so the vendor base for the K-MAX is firmly established and robust. K-MAX is a simple aircraft, with an active supplier base, and we have a very executable plan allowing us to re-start the production line very quickly. We have all the tooling and are ready to move quickly should that be the requirement. IoC and FoC will be determined by NAVAIR and USMC.
R&W: Has the USMC defined a training requirement involving simulators? How long will it take the USMC to get into the frontline with trained crews on a sustained deployment?
Tattershall: Currently, the USMC has not released a simulator training requirement. Training and familiarity with the K-MAX ground controller equipment should take a few weeks. It is important to remember that the unmanned K-MAX is easy to operate and does not require a rated rotorcraft pilot to operate the system.
R&W: What are the advantages to the USMC of selecting the product of Kaman, a relatively small company over that of selecting the A160 backed by the huge resources of the Boeing Company (I am not asking or expect you to comment on Boeing or its product).
Tattershall: It is important to understand that Kaman and Lockheed Martin have teamed to pursue the USMC UAS opportunity as well as other UAS opportunities. The combined resources of Kaman and Lockheed Martin as well as the superior capabilities of the K-MAX platform provide an exceptional basis for these opportunities. K-MAX is a mature aircraft specifically designed for delivering cargo with demonstrated performance for over 15 years in the commercial market. K-MAX has 6000lbs of payload, and can carry 4300lbs at 15,000ft with 98-99% availability rates, and established life limits, overhaul intervals, and maintenance practices, which are based on the brutal helicopter logging mission. In FAA approved tests, Kaman pushed all the K-MAX components to the limits by stressing them to full power cycles, 30 times per hour, for the entire life of the components. No other helicopter, let alone any other UAV, has been tested to this extreme. The aircraft can fly at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary wing UAS and also deliver more cargo to more locations in one flight compared to competitors. The K-MAX UAS is an affordable solution for military services using less than half the fuel of manned assets.
R&W: Outside of Lockheed Martin, does Kaman envisage a need to further team with other industry partners and if so, who has been approached so far?
Tattershall: The K-MAX UAS team of Lockheed Martin and Kaman bring a multitude of resources to the table in the pursuit of UAS opportunities. While there are no immediate plans to team with others in industry, we continue to review the need as our customer’s requirements evolve and new technologies are developed and made available.
R&W: The Dugway proving ground trials last year have been widely reported as successful by Kaman. What is USMC’s timeline now as Kaman understands it?
Tattershall: Please contact the Marine Corps for more information on the status of funding for a cargo UAS. Our proven K-MAX helicopter will provide our warfighters with an affordable unmanned cargo delivery capability to meet critical needs in theater. The K-MAX uses less than half the fuel of manned assets with similar payloads, with a fuel cost savings of more than $85 million in one year alone. We look forward to supporting our warfighters in this effort.
R&W: What commitment will Kaman need to make in terms of R&D to further develop the Burro before it is ready to be actually fielded on operations?
Tattershall: Lockheed Martin and Kaman are continuing to enhance the helicopter’s mission capabilities with both independent and funded research and development programs. Kaman recently received a $2.9 million contract from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center for unmanned aircraft reliability. In addition, the K-MAX team is funding the development of other technologies that will allow the K-MAX UAS more autonomy in the cargo mission, further limiting the need for soldiers to be vulnerable to the enemy. In partnership with the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, the K-MAX team also recently demonstrated the ability to perform multiple cargo air drops to different locations using the aircraft’s four hook carousel. The team is also ready to exploit the 50 hp (37kw) of auxiliary power available on the K-MAX, whether it’s for hoisting of casualty evacuation pods, or other autonomous cargo extraction requirements.
R&W: What happens to the Burro program if funding for the USMC’s UAS Cargo program is cut – as has happened to this type of requirement in the past?
Tattershall: Lockheed Martin and Kaman will continue to pursue funding opportunities for a six month in theater cargo demonstration. The K-MAX UAS is the proven solution in meeting the documented Joint Urgent Operational Needs (JUONS) to get our soldiers off the road. The aircraft can fly at higher altitudes with a larger payload than any other rotary wing UAS and also deliver more cargo to more locations in one flight compared to competitors