The US Marine Corps announced on the eve of the convention that the Boeing A160T Hummingbird and the Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-MAX helicopters will compete for an "immediate cargo UAS" contract.
The announcement means the Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout has been ruled out of the demonstration phase of a critical competition to fulfil an all-new mission for UAVs by US forces.
The USMC awarded Boeing a $500,000 deal and the Lockheed/Kaman team an $860,000 contract to demonstrate their UAVs as cargo aircraft by February. If the demonstration is a success, the USMC will award a services contract to the winning team to deploy immediately to Afghanistan.
As the USMC hopes to replace dangerous truck convoys to haul supplies to forward bases with unmanned systems, the A160 and K-MAX must demonstrate the ability to deliver at least 2,500lb of cargo in less than six hours for three consecutive days.
The A160 features a 2,500lb cargo limit and has been in development for a decade as an aerial sensor and attack rotorcraft. The K-MAX is designed to carry up to 6,000lb.
Other military services are closely watching the USMC program. The US Army does not have a requirement for a cargo UAV, but could reconsider based on the results of the deployment.
Meanwhile, the US Navy is evaluating the option of expanding the mission set for the MQ-8B to include moving cargo between ships, says Capt Tim J. Dunigan, commander of PMA-266, the office charged with buying multi-mission tactical UAS.