The US Marine Corps has announced plans to audition multiple unmanned aircraft by next February to perform the resupply mission.
The solicitation released on 17 April by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) addresses one of the few airborne mission areas still not served by unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
The most likely competitors for the emerging mission area include the Lockheed Martin/Kaman unmanned K-MAX, Boeing Unmanned Little Bird, Boeing A160 Hummingbird and the Northrop Grumman RQ-8B Fire Scout.
RQ-8B Fire Scout is a contender for a resupply mission
The MCWL will require the demonstrator aircraft to deliver between 4,535kg (10,000lb) and 9,070kg of cargo up to 150nm within a 24hr period. The aircraft should be able to hover in ground effect/hover out of ground effect at 3,658m (12,000ft), and fly with a full cargo load up to 4,572m.
The Lockheed/Kaman team confirms that it will respond to the MCWL offer. The team formed in early 2007 specifically to unlock the market for unmanned aerial resupply.
The team has acquired a total of three K-MAX and one Burro helicopters on the commercial market to adapt into unmanned demonstrators.Lockheed staged a demonstration of the unmanned K-MAX for the army last April at Fort Eustis, Virginia, carrying two sling loads weighing 680kg.
The same aircraft also demonstrated carrying 2722kg in November to a Marine audience at Quantico, Virginia. Although the USMC demonstration is moving forward, military officials remain skeptical about the concept of routine unmanned aerial re-supply.
Tim Owings, the army’s deputy UAS programme manager, told Flightglobal in February that unmanned aircraft would be an ideal solution to resupply troops in active combat.
However, Owings was still dubious that an unmanned aircraft could replace manned cargo helicopters for routine resupply missions. “You have to really make a case at that point of cost effectiveness, I believe,” Owings said. “I think the jury is still out on if that can be done or not.”