I’ve posted about the Lockheed Martin-Kaman unmanned K-MAX helicopter before. It is a program to take off-the-shelf Kaman K-MAX helicopters and turn them into unmanned cargo resupply helicopters to support troops in the field. Two of the aircraft are currently undergoing an operational evaluation with the US Marine Corp in Afghanistan, and so far they seem to be performing well.
Afghanistan has very little in the way of infrastructure, especially roads, and a lot of rugged terrain. When resupply by ground convoy is even possible it is risky, as convoy’s are prime targets for ambush and IEDs. Helicopters can fly supplies into areas without roads, or just avoid most attacks by flying over them. But they still expose air crews to risk, especially during arrival and departure as they’re closer to the ground and within range of small arms. Not to mention it is tedious work flying back and forth, shuffling cargo. Just the kind of risky, monotonous task that machines excel at.
The K-MAX has been successfully flying sling-loaded cargo to troops in forward operating positions in Afghanistan, with an 87% mission availability rate – which is very good in such an environment. For any system, let alone a developmental one. And it operates day or night – darkness means nothing to a computer. For human pilots night flying is much riskier. The K-MAX doesn’t care, it is all the same to the machine.
The system looks very impressive.