Washington: A Lockheed Martin-built aerial cargo drone is one step closer to hitting the skies above Afghanistan this fall, after completing a key Marine Corps evaluation this month.
The Marine Corps recently ran the K-MAX through a five-day Quick Reaction Assessment test in Yuma, AZ. The tests put the helicopter-like drone through a number of combat scenarios and environments designed to replicate those found in Afghanistan, Naylor said.
While Naval Air Systems Command won’t have its official performance review of the K-MAX tests done until October, Naylor said the drone hit all the service-specific performance goals during those tests.
Last December, Lockheed Martin pitted its K-MAX against Boeing’s A160 Hummingbird to be the Marine Corps new aerial cargo drone.
The A160 is already in service with the Army and Special Operations Command, but strictly as an intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance asset.
NAVAIR and the Marines will likely decide between the K-MAX or Hummingbird once the Boeing plane finishes its QRA, Naylor said. NAVAIR has yet to set a date with Boeing to run the Hummingbird through the those tests, command spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove said.
There has been chatter about fielding one K-MAX and one A160 to support Marine Corps units in Afghanistan, likely in Regional Command-South where the majority of the Marines are located, according to Naylor.
That said, he declined to comment on whether NAVAIR was leaning toward a dual deployment or sending a single drone overseas.
Whether its a Boeing drone, Lockheed drone or both that end up over in Afghanistan, Naylor said investing in this type of technology would create cost savings for the services and DoD in the long run.
The Marine Corps and the Army could eliminate a number of the trucks and vehicles used for troop resupply by putting a number of cargo drones in the field, Naylor said.
Aside from the vehicles themselves, the services could also drawdown the number of personnel used to maintain that supply fleet, Naylor said. In light of the upcoming budget cuts to defense spending, reducing spending in those areas would definitely be a good thing, he added.
But there is a concern within DoD that the services may end up spending billions to build up their own individual unmanned aircraft fleets. In the end, these service fleets could end up chock full of costly drones that essentially do the same thing.
Top brass inside and outside the Pentagon have been saying for years that the desire for unmanned systems is insatiable.
But if those systems end up just being mirror images of each other, with the only difference being which service they belong to, that need will only continue to grow with no end in sight.