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Fri, May 11, 2012

Marine Corps Extends The Use Of Unmanned Helicopters

K-MAX UAV Taking The Place Of Some Convoys, Reducing IED Losses

Improvised explosive devices have changed the way the Marine Corps engages hostile forces. The need has risen for supplies to reach the most remote parts of Afghanistan quickly, reliably and safely. Late last year, the Corps began experimenting with the K-MAX - an unmanned helicopter, able to transport large amounts of cargo and reduce the need for convoys.

With troops spread across a desolate country with few paved roads, steep mountains, rocky terrain and abrasive weather, the K-MAX has arrived to help deliver supplies across the harsh lands of Afghanistan. Presently, convoys are exposed to many potential dangers, such as improvised explosive devices and ambushes. Both have claimed the lives of Marines in the past. “The need (for an alternate transport solution) came about because the Marine Corps wanted to get trucks off the road,” said Maj. Kyle O’Connor, the detachment officer in charge for Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aircraft Systems (CRUAS), a component of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1. “They wanted to be able to deliver supplies from one locale to another without putting Marines in danger of IED’s,” he said. “The Marine Corps needed a fast, reliable platform with which to deliver to COPs (Combat Outposts).”
 
The K-MAX platform has a unique configuration. The two sets of rotors are mounted side-by-side and turn in opposite directions. Each rotor on the helicopter is mounted at a slight angle to the other so that the blades can spin simultaneously without colliding. This configuration allows for superior stability and power while eliminating the need for a tail rotor. K-MAX has, thus far, fulfilled the Corps’ request of transporting large amounts of cargo over great distances in an expeditious manner.
 
O’Connor explained that in the month of March alone, the K-MAX ferried approximately 500,000 pounds of cargo and has transported more than 1.3 million pounds since its arrival five months ago. It has flown roughly 400 missions in theater. He said the K-MAX has performed so well that the original six-month trial has been extended in theater. “It’s such a new system for the DoD (Department of Defense) that there isn’t a whole lot of reliability data for it,” he said. “Since it’s done so well, the deployment extension is going to give us   more time to continue to gather data on its performance and transport more cargo.”

The data collected will give Corps officials insight on whether to keep the K-MAX as a permanent addition to the Corps’ unmanned squadrons. "We’re flying to see if there are any issues and see if problems come up,” O’Connor said. While data is being collected, new tactics, techniques and procedures have been created to weave the K-MAX into everyday operations across Helmand province. “As the drawdown occurs, there will be fewer vehicles and a greater demand for air transportation. With K-MAX being extended, we hope to use it to assist in retrograde operations.”
 
O’Connor added since February, the K-MAX has helped retrograde equipment from several combat outposts and will likely continue these types of operations in the future.
 
ANN Salutes Cpl. Isaac Lamberth, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

FMI: www.marines.mil

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