October 21st, 2010
10:03 AM ET

U.S. military to experiment with unmanned helicopters

The U.S. military is hoping to use remote-controlled helicopters like these, shown in January 2010, for supply delivery.

Faced with increasing casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the U.S. military will experiment with remote-controlled, unmanned helicopters to deliver supplies to remote outposts, the U.S. Navy said.

The U.S. Navy is seeking a contractor to operate the program, planned for the last quarter of 2011, Eric Pratson, leader of the U.S. Navy team behind the project, told CNN.

“This is a rapid deployment effort being led by the Navy in response to an urgent needs requirement for a Cargo UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) capability in support of Marine Corps forces engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom,” Pratson told Stars and Stripes, which first reported the plan.

Lockheed-Martin and Kaman Aerospace say their K-MAX unmanned helicopter system can do the job. They tested it at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground earlier this year and it met or exceeded requirements, according to a Lockheed-Martin statement.

Video: Watch K-MAX test

“It keeps our Marines readily resupplied and out of harm’s way,” Dan Spoor, Lockheed Martin Aviation Systems vice president, said in a statement.

The company says the K-MAX can operate day or night, deliver up to 3,450 pounds of supplies to up to four locations per trip and hover at 12,000 feet.

Boeing's A160T.

Boeing is also vying for the contract with its A160T Hummingbird unmanned copter, the company said Wednesday. It said the A160T passed a Marine Corps test in March, successfully delivering 2,500 pounds of supplies during a simulated mission.

“This capability will save lives by getting troops and trucks off of roads where they are highly vulnerable to IED attacks,” Vic Sweberg, director, Boeing Unmanned Airborne Systems, said in a statement.

Boeing’s website says the A160T can stay aloft for 24 hours and operate as high as 30,000 feet, 10,000 feet higher than conventional copters. It has a payload of 2,500 pounds, Boeing says.

The program is still open to other bidders, Pratson told CNN in an e-mail.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Military
soundoff (226 Responses)
  1. There is obviously no evidence for evolution, stupid.


    @DNSmith, there is no way you will ever convince me that Major John Smith knows how to do research. He seems extra special.

    October 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNSmith

      He is going to have to go a long way to prove he has ever been in the military; certainly not an Officer.

      October 21, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. GTR5

    If it is too dangerous for a real pilot to fly in supplies to troops on the ground then it is too dangerous for the troops to be there.

    October 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marines123

    We can resupply troops with airdrops. But I think the remote helecopter is more precise for supply delivery? No, this is not a toy. Can resupply our marines day or night. Yes! The drone war has been successfull for all you non millitary idiots that no nothing about combat!!

    October 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CVN78


    October 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. another John

    An upgrade to old technology – US Navy has been using unmanned remote-controlled helicopters since 1963. They were anti-submarine drones known as DASH, designed to carry torpedos or depth charges to the location of a submarine contact. Now they are used to tow aerial targets.

    October 21, 2010 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Remote control aircraft don't necessarily save much money, since a pilot (or team of pilots) is still controlling each one, albeit remotely. Simple cargo systems should be highly autonomous, knowing how to navigate to a designated GPS location without a human pilot in the loop. My question is why used helicopters for this? Unmanned fixed-wing aircraft would surely carry heavier loads faster and further. And with GPS-guided parachutes they can still be dropped quite accurately, with no runway at the destination.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Eric W.

    it looks like the man is using a PS3 controller to control the unmanned helo...that's pretty cool

    October 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mississippi Boy

    I have yet to understand why our intelligent U.S. Government would put this on the news where the whole world can see. Leave this to the U.S. Army, dont broadcast it to the whole world so they can see all of our ideas. Now that the world saw it, they are planning something better or something to eliminate this project. Unmanned helicopter- good idea. Broadcasting to the world- bad idea.

    October 21, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dave Barak

    What many readers may not know is that the Navy already has unmanned helicopters, the Firescout.


    October 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    Actually, this isn't the first time the Navy has used remote-controlled helicopters. During the 60s and 70s, the Navy used small remote helicopters known as DASH, and these carried torpedoes or depth charges for anti-submarine warfare. DASH copter drones have also been used in the decades since then to tow targets, with a few continuing in operation in recent years.

    October 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim Bob

    I don't get it. I read the article, but the rationale seems to be that it will keep the folks who deliver stuff out of harms way...which is good. However, that still means that there are troops on the ground and that is really who is in harms way. Sounds like yet more runaway spending brought to you by the military industrial complex paid by us.

    October 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick from LA

      Troops in harms way need to be resupplied, this is where combat operations are the most vulnerable. If you can deny your enemy supplies, they will run out of ammo or switch to a less tenactious approach to conserve ammunition. Either way it gives your side the advantage in volume of fire. If you have more effective rounds going down range then coming at you, then you are in a good poisition over all. The problem with resupply is loss and rescue of crews ferrying those supplies. A army unit in a fire fight may be forced to break contact to resuce the helicopter crew that was shot down while delivering cargo, or the air rescue team will be called in to bring out the crew. 1 downed heli can tie up many resources not only in trying to replace those lost supplies but in trying to rescue the crews. This autonomous heli means that if it dissapears from radar, just send another one, no need to send out rescue crews. Just try to recover the craft after you side secures the area and repair it. No notifying a next of kin, no VA hospital visits.

      October 21, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dennis

    They are testing one down here in Belize. The thing had a rough landing an messed up the gear. been here about 3 months or so. The US says they are testing over jungle.

    October 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick from LA

      Sound like either it was on manned mode and the operator is a novice, or the proximity laser mounted under the nose is malfunctioning. This craft is supposed to use a system simlar to the firescout which uses several high resolution lasers to map the area it's landing in. I guess thes system still needs work.

      October 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bigmart

    I thought they were testing blimps for carrying cargo

    October 21, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ford andrus

    First of all it is likely that even "stone age nut jobs" love their children.
    Second we all know there are no panzis in the military.As evidenced by events that have unfolded in the past week.
    What may be missed here is that this bird is being rushed thru so it may be deployed in the last quarter of 2011. We supposed to be packed up and gone home by then?
    Really though this article is just fluff in the vein of we are winning and technology will save us or at least make war seem more sterile.
    Don't worry about the cost. Uncle Sam will offset it by selling weapons to other middle east countries so that we may have a worthy military foe in the future.

    October 21, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Herman C

      Izrael has already stolen the plans for this UAH.

      October 22, 2010 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. NOhaven

    psssshhhhh another toy thts gna be used to murder alot of innocent people in the middle east

    October 21, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Herman C

    The U.S. Navy is seeking a contractor to operate the program, **planned for the last quarter of 2011**

    We were supposed to be OUT OF AFGHANISTAN by the last quarter of 2011, I guess that explains Congress' gift of +$95billion RAISE to Defense for 2011, and SecDef Gates comments, 'We will ALWAYS be in Afghanistan', so
    eerily reminiscent of the novel 1984.

    October 22, 2010 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
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