Unmanned helos eyed for cargo carrying role
Unmanned air vehicles for cargo duties have been studied for some years, but the current difficulties being experienced by U.S. and other forces in Afghanistan has lent a new urgency to development of this concept. IEDs and ambushes have taken a heavy toll on the MSRs (main supply routes) along which the military is forced to move its materiel.
Last August the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory awarded contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin to demonstrate capabilities to support a near-term solution, under the Immediate Cargo UAS program banner. In December/January the two companies undertook the demos, Boeing using its A160T Hummingbird rotary-wing UAV, while Lockheed Martin employed the Kaman K-Max helicopter. The demonstrations took place at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where the terrain approximates to the dusty, mountainous environment encountered in Afghanistan.
The Marines have identified a desirable capability of 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of cargo to be delivered in a 24-hour period to a point 75 nm away. To that end, the demonstration showed the ability to move 2,500 pounds a similar distance in six hours. The teams displayed autonomous navigation to within 10 meters of the desired drop point, and the ability to re-route and recall the vehicle mid-mission.