The US Marine Corps’ Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopter has returned from its Afghan deployment, following almost three years in theatre.

The cargo-carrying unmanned air vehicle returned in May, and is now undergoing technical assessment at Lockheed’s Owego facility in New York.

A USMC assessment of assets in theatre concluded that the UAV was no longer required in Afghanistan to support the mission, so the unmanned rotorcraft was subsequently returned, Capt Patrick Smith, programme executive officer for multi-mission UAS, says.

The system outperformed expectations while deployed, as it was originally only due to operate for six months from December 2011. “This excelled beyond anything we thought possible,” says Smith.

K-Max full size - Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin

The USMC is in discussions about potentially making K-Max a programme of record, although Smith cannot offer any detail on when this could happen, or which budget year it could fall under.

“I can’t say when this will happen; this is still right now in a primary stage,” he says.

K-Max carried some 20,400 tonnes of cargo throughout its deployment with the two aircraft that were in theatre.

Meanwhile, Lockheed is planning to conduct a series of demonstrations with K-Max over the coming months, including an effort to demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to move a company-developed unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) during testing in US Army-led trials at Fort Benning, Georgia in August.

The K-Max is capable of carrying loads of up to 2,720kg (6,000lb), while the squad mission support system UGV can weigh up to 2,270kg.