Rivals Lockheed Martin and Boeing will both provide unmanned cargo resupply services to the US Marine Corps under a split $75 million fixed-price contract award, the Pentagon announced on 2 December.
Under the deal, Lockheed, together with manufacturer Kaman Aerospace, will get $45.8 million to operate the K-Max unmanned helicopter, while Boeing will receive $29.2 million to use its A160T Hummingbird to deliver cargo to Marines in Afghanistan.
The systems will be government-owned and contractor-operated, says the US Navy, which handles USMC contracts. Both contracts include development of two air vehicles, three remote ground control stations and a Quick Reaction Assessment (QRA). Each contract also includes a separate fixed-price option for a six-month deployment.
“By evaluating two different systems, we have the ability to accelerate development of technology and use it immediately to support the warfighter while maintaining competition,” says said Rear Adm. Bill Shannon, programme executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons.
The Navy plans to conduct the QRA next summer to prove the systems’ ability to sustain cargo-carrying capability in an operational environment. Immediately following a successful QRA, one contractor's in-country service option will be exercised and their system will deploy to Afghanistan.
“While we only plan on deploying one system after a successful QRA, we will explore options for using the second system for future operational missions and/or science and technology development, should it also meet performance requirements,” says Capt. Tim Dunigan, programme manger for navy and Marine Corps multi-mission tactical unmanned air systems.
Both competitors have already completed one round of flight demonstrations for the Pentagon, the Kaman/Lockheed under a contract awarded in August 2009 and Boeing in March 2010.
“The K-MAX unmanned aircraft system was specifically designed for the battlefield cargo resupply mission,” says Lockheed. The unmanned helicopter boasts a four-hook cargo carousel, which the company says makes K-MAX “capable of delivering more cargo to more locations in one flight than any other unmanned rotorcraft”. K-Max can carry 2721.6kg (6,000lbs) of cargo at sea level and more than 1,814.3kg (4,000lbs) at 10,000ft.
© Lockheed Martin
“The A160T has proven its ability to autonomously deliver cargo to forward operating bases in austere conditions in a demonstration setting, and we are confident in its ability to do the same in battlefield conditions,” says Vic Sweberg, Boeing’s Unmanned Airborne Systems director.
Boeing has two Hummingbirds currently in production in Mesa, Arizona that will go to the Marines, the company says.
Two recent crashes – one a US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate-owned A160T on a California flightline on 28 July and the other in Belize on 4 September during US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) testing – are still under investigation.
The Hummingbird, designated the YMQ-18A by the Pentagon, with its patented adjustable rotor speed technology, holds the record for endurance in its class, at 18.7h.
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