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Kaman K-MAX UAV helicopter
US military continues testing a broader range of unmanned aircraft for use in the battlefield

The United States Marine Corps recently started a six-month test of an unmanned helicopter designed to resupply manned missions in Afghanistan. If testing is successful, the USMC hopes to introduce the new helicopters on a limited scale as soon but only after significant testing.

The Lockheed Martin/Kaman-manufactured K-MAX helicopter also has the ability to sling-load cargo from U.S. and NATO bases in Afghanistan, so cargo can be moved quickly off ground.

"We delivered cargo today that was supposed to be delivered by convoy," said Maj. Kyle O'Connor, UAV helicopter squadron commander, in a press release. "Now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry."

The K-MAX is able to carry up to 3.5 tons of supplies and munitions up to 250 miles, and has the ability to auto drop cargo in varying environments. During a "brown out" simulated dust storm -- aimed at replicating Afghanistan's harsh work environment -- cargo was still able to be delivered, according to test personnel.

The Marine Corps and Navy wanted the K-MAX to surpass 6,000 pounds of cargo drops per day for five days, with one mission successfully dropping 3,500 pounds.

The helicopter is designed for transportation, instead of direct confrontations with enemies.

The unmanned helicopter would be a great asset to avoid ground troops resupplying operations, with improvised explosive devices still causing fatalities to ground troops.  Military officials plan to primarily focus at higher elevation and for nighttime unmanned helicopter missions, in an effort to reduce direct small-arms fire.

UAV demand is expected to continue its rise this year, as the need for unmanned aircraft will continue among superior military nations. Throughout the past 24 months, the Pentagon showed increased interest in UAVs, urging each branch to begin training more UAV-specific personnel.

Specifically for UAV helicopters, they could also one day be used in civilian life, but many improvements and modifications would be needed.

Sources: Marine Corps Times, Naval Air Systems Command





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