US Marine Corps reveals details of cargo-moving unmanned air system

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The US Marine Corps has revealed new details of a nascent strategy to deploy next year an unmanned air system dedicated to moving cargo to forward operating bases.

A single contractor could be selected early in 2010 to support a new USMC unit dubbed the VMU-Cargo UAS detachment, according to a pre-solicitation notice released to contractors on 19 November.

The notice was published about a month ahead of a scheduled series of demonstrations to show whether a cargo UAS concept is feasible.

In August, the USMC selected the Boeing A160 Hummingbird and Kaman/Lockheed Martin K-Max to perform the demonstration by February. Both contractors expect to complete flight tests next month. The goal is show that a aircraft can deliver 9,072kg (20,000lb) of cargo within a 24h period.

k-max uas lockheed martin
 © Lockheed Martin

The USMC had planned to launch an acquisition for a cargo UAS if the demonstrations showed the concept was feasible.

Naval Air Systems (NAVAIR) Command, which is managing the acquisition on behalf of the USMC, says that plan remains intact. The solicitation notice is intended to get the process started quickly if the demonstration is successful.

"The level of technology maturation for the system requires a high degree of government and industry collaboration," says NAVAIR.

For instance, Lockheed confirms that the K-MAX is now being equipped with a new datalink for beyond-line-of-sight communications. The antenna would be needed to update the unmanned aircraft if its destination changes after taking off.

The "flight tests for K-MAX are going extremely well," says Lockheed.

Boeing is encouraged by the release of the pre-solicitation document. "We are encouraged that the solicitation process for a follow-on deployment is proceeding without delay," it says.

It is not clear whether either contractor could be eliminated as a result of the demonstration phase. "The government may award multiple contracts to satisfy NAVAIR's need to fulfil the immediate UAS Cargo services requirements," the pre-solicitation notice says. "However, the government reserves the right to award one contract should it be deemed it is in the government's best interest."