There is strong interest amongst the United States' NATO allies for Lockheed Martin's optionally-manned version of the Kaman K-MAX cargo helicopter, a senior company official says.

"We have a tremendous amount of interest out there at the moment," says Jim Naylor, Lockheed's K-MAX business development director.

But while Naylor is willing to disclose that those interested parties are NATO allies, he says cannot specifically identify which nations those are.

 KMAX hover

 ©Lockheed Martin

Though the company is currently focused on the US Marine Corps unmanned resupply mission, it has thought about what an armed version or surveillance variant of the optionally-manned K-MAX might look like.

Lockheed has equipped the aircraft with a secure data-link, so therefore it could do other missions if there is a demand for it. "The platform is a perfect platform to add additional capability because it has so much lift capability," Naylor says.

So far the USMC has been the service that has expressed the most interest. The service has been conducting user trials of the K-MAX in Afghanistan under a six-month contract since December, 2011. The service could extend that contract by another six months, Naylor says.

Right now, the two deployed aircraft are together flying five or six missions a day at two forward operating bases. They have flown over 230 sorties with a 94% mission effectiveness rate, Naylor says. The aircraft have also demonstrated a 100% mission capability rate while maintenance man-hours are sitting at 0.8 hours per flight hour.

Naylor says he hopes the Afghanistan experience will prompt the US Department of Defense to buy more of the helicopters.

But the K-MAX production line was shutdown in 2003, Kaman will have to get that line up and running again if the DoD does acquire the new optionally-manned version. Or if there are foreign sales.

Source: Flight International