Half the US forces in Afghanistan may be coming home, but K-MAX, the little unmanned helicopter, will stay until the end. A pair of the remote-controlled cargo choppers arrived in Afghanistan in late 2011 for what was billed as a short-term experiment, but the Marines liked it so much that the trial deployment was repeatedly extended, and now the military has confirmed it will keep them on “indefinitely.” (The extension was first reported yesterday by Reuters). Three love letters to the remote-controlled cargo chopper from military officers, obtained exclusively by Breaking Defense, show why.
Technologically, K-MAX is just plain neat. It’s a small one-man chopper built by Kaman Aerospace Corp. – originally for logging operations, where it airlifted tree trunks out of tight areas . It was converted to a remotely piloted vehicle by Lockheed Martin. Tactically, K-MAX allows delivery of supplies to forward outposts by air, without risking human pilots or, worse yet, sending ground convoys through the gauntlet of Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs.
“What stood out most in my mind … was the permanent scorch marks burnt into the earth up and down ‘ambush alley,’” recalled Marine Corps Maj. Kyle O’Connor, who served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2011. So many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had gone off in one narrow mountain pass, an unavoidable chokepoint for US supply convoys, that “that stretch of road continually had scars marking where explosions had scorched the earth,” O’Connor wrote in a letter endorsing the K-MAX for the prestigious Collier Trophy. “Those memories,” he went on, “are what drove me to be part of a program meant to save lives by limiting the amount of exposure our ground convoys had to danger”: the unmanned K-MAX, whose first six-month deployment had O’Connor in command. Keep reading →
PENTAGON: The Defense Department named new chiefs today for the Naval Air Systems Command, responsible for all naval aircraft acquisitions, and for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, better known as Naval Reactors (NR), an obscure but powerful organization shard between the Energy Department and the Navy.
Vice Admiral John Richardson, currently the commander of the Atlantic Fleet’s submarine force, will pin on his fourth star as a full admiral when he takes over NR, the job once held by the legendary Hyman Rickover. Rickover exploited NR’s anomalous position — reporting both to the Navy and to the Atomic Energy Commission (which evolved into the Department of Energy) — to build an almost autonomous empire, and the Navy nuclear propulsion program remains a world unto itself. Richardson, like Rickover and outgoing NR chief Adm. Kirkland Donald, is a career submariner, but he’s unusual in the normally reserved submarine community for writing a blog, including a recent, widely cited post on character that pulls together such diverse strands as the Naval academy cheating scandal, Ahu Ghraib, and Plato’s Republic. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: The military can’t buy enough unmanned aerial systems to suit imagery-hungry combat commanders. Procurement programs are harder than ever to start in these days of ever-tightening defense budgets. And using a 20th Century defense acquisition system to buy 21st Century technologies often means getting too little too late too expensively anyway. What to do?
Don’t buy planes, buy pixels — as the U.S. military is doing from companies offering a service best described as “rent-a-drone.” It may be too soon to call rent-a-drone contracts a trend, but they’re a solution both the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) have turned to in recent weeks to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability in a hurry. Those involved say it’s a new business model that’s generating considerable interest in the unmanned aircraft industry. Keep reading →
The Marine Corps is taking the use of unmanned air systems to the next level, deploying pilotless cargo helicopters to Afghanistan to test their ability to supply troops in the field without trucks facing the risk of deadly IEDs.
The six-month demonstration of the feasibility of a cargo UAS in a combat environment will involve two K-MAX helicopters, a commercially-proven manned aircraft produced by Kaman that was modified for drone operations by Lockheed Martin. The decision was announced today by Rear Adm. William Shannon, program executive officer for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons at Naval Air Systems Command, which buys aircraft for both of the naval services. “I am very excited to deploy a system that will keep our Marines and sailors out of harm’s way and ultimately save lives,” Shannon said in a NAVAIR release. Keep reading →
For the first time, the Navy and Northrop Grumman have demonstrated the ability to make an unmanned aircraft make carrier landings and take-offs today, using an F-18 rigged to fly the same way.
It is part of the Navy’s effort to develop a stealthy and unmanned aircraft –UCAS-D, also known as the X-47B — able to fly from carriers and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as strike capabilities. Keep reading →