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 →
AM General’s corporate ancestors built jeeps in World War II. The company designed and still builds the military’s iconic Humvee. But in the battle to build the Humvee’s replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, AM General is ironically not the incumbent but the scrappy underdog.
[Follow these links to read more and see video about AM General's competitors, Lockheed Martin and Oshkosh, and read about the JLTV competition overall]. Keep reading →
More good news for Oshkosh ( http://aol.it/Trqo2B ): Marines buy 260 more MTVR trucks for $67 million — see http://bit.ly/P3FPNw SydneyFreedberg
[UPDATED 12:45 pm] Truck maker Navistar is withdrawing the protest it filed Friday with the Government Accountability Office over the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, company spokeswoman Elissa Koc told Breaking Defense this morning.
Had Navistar persisted, its protest probably would have delayed JLTV development for months while the GAO investigated whether the military ran the competition fairly. Keep reading →
UPDATED: Navistar has withdrawn its protest — click here for the latest.
Buy 54,599 armored trucks at $250,000 each and that works out to roughly $13.6 billion. Keep reading →
The Army’s new, streamlined approach to improving its battlefield networks took a big step forward this week when five MRAP armored trucks with the latest digital communications gear shipped out to be tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Testing at Aberdeen is the last major hurdle before fielding what’s called “Capability Set 13″ to Afghanistan-bound soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division this October. It comes just six months after design work began on the vehicle upgrades and just three months after the proposed technologies underwent extensive testing in the New Mexico desert under the new “Network Integration Evaluation” process, which a recent Defense Business Board report held up as a model for more rapid acquisition of new technology. Keep reading →
Three very different teams are contending to build the Humvee’s replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. Breaking Defense weighs their strengths and weaknesses.
Last week, the Army and Marines slashed a crowded field of competitors in half, awarding contracts for “engineering and manufacturing development” of JLTV prototypes to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, truck maker Oshkosh, and Humvee manufacturer AM General. The choices surprised many observers because only one of the three, Lockheed, had won in the previous round, in 2008, when the military awarded three “technology development” contracts. A major restructuring of the program last year had rendered many of the original criteria irrelevant, because — facing a cancellation threat from the Senate Appropriations Committee — the Army and Marines had trimmed back their ambitions for the new vehicle to contain spiralling costs. Keep reading →
PENTAGON: Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos laid out today the Corps’ tricky balancing act, simultaneously cutting personnel, spreading out weapons programs, and shifting from counterinsurgency on land in Afghanistan to seaborne crisis response in the Pacific.
The big Marine Corps news of the last 24 hours was the award of development contracts to three firms, Lockheed Martin, AM General, and Oshkosh, to work on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace Army and Marine Humvees. The Marines nearly backed out of the program in 2011 over cost concerns. While the Marines are committed to the JLTV today, they are buying far fewer than once hoped. Keep reading →
[updated 4:00 pm with AM General comment] The Army and Marines took a big step towards replacing their vulnerable Humvees and lumbering MRAPs yesterday evening when they awarded contracts to defense giant Lockheed Martin, truck maker Oshkosh, and Humvee manufacturer AM General to develop alternatives for a new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).
The military wants the JLTV to combine the offroad mobility of an unarmored Humvee with the protection against mines and roadside bombs of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) trucks. It’s hard to demonstrate protection to reporters without trying to blow them up, but on Wednesday — just hours before the award announcement — Oshkosh Corp. demonstrated the mobility of its JLTV candidate, which the company calls the L-ATV, by giving reporters a ride. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Ford Motor Company’s foray into the defense sector could be good for the Pentagon, but questions remain whether the automotive giant can navigate the complex and oft-frustrating acquisition process, according to a defense analysts.