U.S. MARINE CORPS
A K-MAX unmanned aerial vehicle prepares to take off with
a load after landing support Marines with Combat Logistics
Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), hooked it
up at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, May 23, 2012.
was listed as 108 miles. We’ve gone around 60 miles one
way, so almost 120 miles round-trip, exceeding that.”
“During the 18-plus months that we’ve been in the-
ater, we’ve gone through modifications from the origi-
nal aircraft to include items such as hot refueling, addi-
tional fuel tanks to extend ranges, actually shifted an
operating base where we started and also included a
retrograde capability, which meant that we were not
just transporting cargo from a main base out to a for-
ward operating base, but also doing pickup from the
forward operating bases back home,” added Smith.
Marine Maj. Daniel Lindblom, the Cargo UAS
detachment officer in charge from Marine Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle Squadron Three (VMU- 3), who led the
third rotation of operators in Afghanistan, said the
deployed Marine aircraft wing headquarters received
tasking requests from ground units for cargo resupply.
“We’ve moved everything from mine roller equipment, generators, ammunition, medical supplies, food,
even mail for the Marines in theater,” Smith said.
“We only have one aircraft flying at any given time,”
McMillen said. “The other one is just a hot spare in
case something would go wrong.”
Lindblom said that at least three times during his
deployment the K-MAX flew missions into dangerous
landing zones (LZs).
“A large percentage of our missions are flown to LZs
that everybody goes into — manned aircraft and
unmanned. It’s not due to the threat level out here; it’s
just the tasking that’s available,” he said. “But, in the
situations where the threat has been high, especially on
emergency resupply, that is when we’ve gotten picked.
“That’s where we really make our money,” Lindblom
said. “The ability for us to plan on the fly and execute
on the fly is quite a bit better, in my opinion, than the
manned aircraft, because the people who are operating
it are right here. They can do the coordination while
the aircraft is still in the air and flying other missions
and then make the changes.”
Recounting a pair of back-to-back missions flown in
January into a high-threat LZ, he said, “We received a
last-minute call within six hours prior to the mission to
go fly a pallet of 60mm mortar rounds into an
LZ that had been receiving direct and indirect fire for the
previous couple of days. They were down to less than 24
hours’ supply of ammunition. Lt. [Amy] Peterson got
the cargo out on the ramp and flew the mission. The
[ground force] was so happy that they ordered another
urgent resupply of 40mm ammo for the next night. We
executed the mission with short notice both times.”
The K-MAX is programmed to fly to GPS waypoints.
“We have the ability to monitor the health and wel-
fare of the aircraft both with a line-of-sight and
beyond-the-line-of-sight data link, which gives us the
ability to change the route of the flight,” Pratson said.
“If there is a situation where we have to go a different
way into an LZ or come home a different way, we can
dynamically retask the air vehicle.”
“The algorithms are programmed into computers
both onboard the aircraft and at the ground control
station,” said Roger Il Grande, director of Airborne
Systems Programs at Lockheed Martin’s Mission
Systems and Training. “[What] the algorithms allow
the system to do is fly itself in terms of the predeter-
mined coordinates that are part of the mission plan.
The aircraft, basically, flies itself. The operator on the
ground is not steering the aircraft in any way.”
“The performance from this aircraft has been
absolutely superb,” Lindblom said. “Because it’s a