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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Unmanned K-MAX Operational in Afghanistan

Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace’s unmanned K-MAX has entered combat service with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan. USMC’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 received the first K-MAX unmanned aerial system in early December, with the initial cargo resupply mission taking place on Dec. 17. The unmanned helicopter transported more than 3,000 lbs of food and supplies from Camp Dwyer to troops at Combat Outpost Payne in the Helmand Province—all in less than two hours.

Photo by Cpl. Justin Boling

“We delivered cargo today that was supposed to be delivered by convoy, now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry,” noted Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the officer-in-charge of Squadron 1’s cargo resupply detachment.

The delivery signifies the first step in a six-month testing period in Afghanistan, after which the Marine Corps may opt to use the K-MAX as part of its aerial resupply capabilities. The demonstration phase will “test the true capabilities of this aircraft and how well it can perform its job in a combat environment,” O’Connor continued. “With every flight in theater we are collecting data, and at the end of the day we are going to look at all of that data and decide whether or not to make it a program of record.”

The unmanned K-MAX is part of a joint venture involving Kaman Aerospace and Lockheed Martin. The UAV completed a five-day quick reaction assessment (QRA) for the U.S. Navy in mid-2011. The QRA was part of a $45.8-million contract awarded in December 2010 to test the UAV in a cargo resupply role for the Marine Corps.

While the unmanned K-MAX will lessen the threat of personnel loss during deliveries, the Navy doesn’t plan to take unnecessary risks with the K-MAX, stating that a majority of the resupply operations “will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes … to keep out of small arms range.”

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