Necessity breeds invention, which is why the U.S. military has historically been a leader in logistics innovations. That tradition continues today, as the deployment of new transport technology in Afghanistan clearly demonstrates.
After stateside tests late in 2011, the U.S. Marine Corps deployed two unmanned K-Max helicopters to Afghanistan, the first unmanned helicopters to deliver cargo and resupply troops in a combat zone. In one four-month stretch, the two helicopters—jointly developed by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Aerospace—delivered more than 1 million pounds of supplies in support of the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan. They will remain in theater until September 2012.
Marine Corps Maj. Kyle O'Connor, who is overseeing the deployment, would like to put more of the unmanned craft into service. "We are moving cargo without putting any Marines, soldiers, or airmen at risk. If we had a fleet of these things flying 24-7, we could move cargo around and not put people in jeopardy," he said in a Lockheed Martin press release.
The helicopter initiative has been on the military's radar for several years. (See "Military tests unmanned helicopters to reduce supply risks," DC VELOCITY, October 2010.) In 2011, the U.S. Army awarded the Lockheed Martin-Kaman Aerospace team a $47 million contract to develop, demonstrate, and deliver technologies for unmanned air systems in support of in-theater unmanned cargo resupply missions.