U.S. Navy and Marine Corps officials describe the K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter as having met or exceeded requirements in Afghanistan, but they also report that the Marines have not yet developed requirements for the system to become a program of record and say they are unsure what effect sequestration will have on the system.
The Marines deployed two K-MAX aircraft to Afghanistan in late 2011 as part of an urgent operational need to ferry supplies to and from forward operating bases, reducing the number of manned flights or vulnerable convoys in an attempt to reduce casualties. The deployment is designed to demonstrate the system’s capabilities, and the Marines recently announced the indefinite extension of the K-MAX mission in Afghanistan. To date, the unmanned helicopters have delivered more than 3.2 million pounds of cargo and continue to keep ground convoys off the roads, significantly reducing Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices and other lethal threats, Marine officials say. The system carries supplies such as ammunition, food and water, generators, medical supplies and even mail.
Maj. Daniel Lindblom, USMC, operations officer for Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, said during a May 1 teleconference with reporters that the system’s performance “has been absolutely superb.” The unmanned helicopter offers some advantages to manned aircraft, especially for emergency resupply missions. “That’s where we really make our money,” says Maj. Lindblom. “The ability for us to plan on the fly and execute on the fly is quite a bit better, in my opinion, than manned aircraft.”