K-MAX cargo UAS mission now is to move
materiel as Marines prepare to leave Afghanistan
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
McMillen, Lockheed Martin’s business development director for the K-MAX program. He said the K-MAX
has proven that it can carry 4,500
pounds per sortie for a total of
30,000 pounds per day. The
unmanned helicopter is used for
short-fused, high-priority cargo runs
and has transported food, ammunition, water, generators and pumps,
among other supplies. The K-MAX
has demonstrated that it can fly to
Global Positioning System (GPS)
coordinates, including during dust
storms, and can be hot refueled while on the ground.
The availability of the K-MAX has exceeded 90 percent
and its operating cost is $1,400 per hour [not including
contractor support], compared with $2,000 per hour of
the original estimate, said McMillen, who cited a study by
the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., that
stated that “K-MAX is less costly than ground convoys.”
Eric Pratson, the Navy’s integrated product team
lead for the Cargo UAS program, said the K-MAX system, with two air vehicles, was purchased for $11 million and the monthly aggregate cost of the program is
approximately $1 million.
One of the two K-MAX UAVs in Afghanistan crashed
June 5, Capt. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for Headquarters Marine Corps, told Seapower. It was in autonomous mode, delivering cargo to Marines at a predetermined location near Camp Leatherneck at the time of the
crash, and an investigation to determine the cause now is
under way, Marine Corps Times reported on June 13.
As of May 1, the K-MAX had moved 3. 2 million
pounds of cargo in country, more than the equivalent
of 600 trucks and security vehicles, according to
Smith, while flying more than 30,000 hours.
“We are usually averaging 3,000 pounds per load in
theater,” McMillen said. “In the original requirements, the
entire round-trip distance that we were required to travel
The demonstration of the Marine Corps’ K-MAX cargo unmanned aerial system (UAS) has been extended as its usefulness is magnified.
■ The K-MAX is meeting or exceeding all of its requirements.
■ The unmanned helicopter has flown supplies into high-threat
landing zones, reducing exposure of manned helicopters.
■ Extra fuel tanks have allowed K-MAX to support special operations forces.
The Marine Corps’ K-MAX cargo unmanned hel- icopter is being used to move materiel from for- ward operating bases (FOBs) to main operating
bases (MOBs) in Afghanistan as the service stages equipment and supplies for shipment out of the country, a
reversal of the role for which it was initially deployed.
The K-MAX — built by Lockheed Martin using a
Kaman-built airframe — is an unmanned mesh-rotor helicopter that can autonomously carry cargo in a sling from
base to base. The K-MAX was fielded to Afghanistan in
response to a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement
validated on Jan. 11, 2010. The K-MAX was deployed to a
Marine Corps operating base in Afghanistan in November
2011 for a six-month demonstration, a mission that has
been extended through the end of fiscal 2013.
“Cargo UAS [unmanned aerial system] is the result
of an urgent request from our fleet operators back in
2009 to help support cargo transportation in theater to
help avoid or reduce the amount of cargo required in
convoys and avoid IEDs [improvised explosive
devices] and, also, avoid exposure not only to the convoy but to the security forces escorting them,” said
Navy Capt. Patrick Smith, program manager for vertical takeoff unmanned air systems.
The K-MAX is required to carry 750 pounds of cargo
per sortie for a total of 6,000 pounds per day, said Jon