Singapore Air Show

When It Comes To Small-Scale UAVs, The Big OEMs are Best: LockMart

 - February 12, 2016, 10:00 PM

Lockheed Martin (LM) is not widely known as a major player in the UAV market. But the company has quietly built a portfolio that extends from the smallest hand-launched examples in Group 1, to the largest runway-dependent machines in Group 5. According to Jay McConville, LM’s director of business development for unmanned solutions, that’s unique.

A few of them he can’t talk about, like the stealthy RQ-170 jet deployed to Afghanistan and flown over Iran. A few more he can acknowledge, but can’t discuss customers, like the Fury. This Group 3 machine with a pusher propeller and a heavy fuel engine also looks stealthy. It can fly for 15 hours at up to 15,000 feet, and appears to be LM’s answer to the Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle.

McConville prefers to talk about exportable systems like the Desert Hawk, the K-Max, the Indago and the Vector Hawk. The first of these is a hand-launched system with a small video camera that found its first long-term customer in 2009 – the British Army. It has now logged more than 30,000 hours, most of them in combat operations, and is onto its third version. The K-Max is an unmanned version of the intermeshing-rotor Kaman helicopter of the same name, that was trialled in Afghanistan for three years as a cargo lifter. The Indago is a small quadrotor vertical takeoff UAS that was recently demonstrated in Dubai. The Vector Hawk is miniature UAS with a common centerbody but changeable wings, that can be configured as a fixed wing, a tilt-rotor, or a fully VTOL device.

Lockheed Martin is developing a tactical maritime version of the Vector Hawk that can be launched from canisters. Like other LM UAVs, it is capable of autonomous flight and landing, “which shifts the operational focus from flying the aircraft to conducting the mission,” the company says.

Then there is Stalker, another small, hand-launchable UAS that was designed at LM’s experimental Skunk Works and is in use by U.S. and other special forces to stream video. It was first fielded with a hybrid propane/battery propulsion system, and offered the ability to drop a small payload. Now, an extended-range (XE) version is available, powered by a more advanced solid oxide fuel cell. It has flown for as long as 12 hours and may soon achieve 16 hours. A medium-wave infrared (MWIR) payload has been integrated and demonstrated – no mean feat with such a small UAS, according to Kevin Lewelling, who manages the Stalker program.

According to McConville, the market is demanding longer endurance, a wider variety of payloads, the ability to rapidly reconfigure, and (of course) reliability and maintainability. He claims that a “quality” company such as LM is best equipped to deliver all these. “Our ultimate goal is to provide a lot more capability for a lot less cost,” added Lewelling.

One means of achieving that is a common architecture for ground control. Last year, LM unveiled its Imperium common control suite of hardware and software for unmanned aircraft operations. The Desert Hawk, the Fury and the K-Max can all be controlled by this suite. LM has also designed a UAS Traffic Management System (UTM) that utilizes the LM Flight Service to report the positions of UAVs to air traffic control.

The collaborative use of different weight-class UAVs is also on McConville’s agenda. Last November, LM demonstrated a Stalker and a K-Max working together as fire-fighters, the former identifying hotspots and the latter dropping suppressants. This was done in national airspace, with reporting via the UTM.