Kaman unveils medium transport drone to replenish distributed Marine Corps forces


WASHINGTON – Kaman this week unveils an unmanned medium-lift quadcopter designed to solve the biggest challenge in the Marine Corps Forward Expeditionary Basic Concept of Operations: the resupply of small units of Marines scattered around island chains.

Kaman’s KARGO unmanned aerial vehicle has been designed from the ground up over the past nine months to meet the Marines’ needs for an unmanned logistics system (ULS-A) medium transport vehicle for the laydown distributed as the Marines expect will be the hallmark of their future operations in places like the Pacific, the Baltic Sea or other disputed areas.

Ian Walsh, president and CEO of Kaman, told Defense News on September 17 that the vehicle will be able to balance range and payload capacity – up to 500 nautical miles and up to 1,000 cargo pounds – to help the Marine Corps move around. beans, balls and dressings ”, or even clean water, fuel and spare parts, to small units in remote locations.

Kaman is the company behind the K-MAX heavy transport drone which was used in Afghanistan in 2011.

“The Marine Corps was very progressive, as it always has been, taking advantage of technology. It was in the theater, he did a whole bunch of missions, tons of hours, basically getting young Marines out of the way “to move supplies around the theater in the air instead of in land convoys likely. being shot or hitting roadside bombs, Walsh said.

“After the end of the war, [the Marine Corps] put those two helicopters on the back burner because nothing was really going on, and then here we are 10 years later with this emerging threat in the Pacific region, ”he said, adding that the threat of conflict with China was creating an emergency for the Marine Corps and the joint force. to understand how he would support forces in combat across such a large swath of sea space.

Romin Dasmalchi, senior director of business development for the company, said during the interview that KARGO is supposed to hide in plain sight: the aerial vehicle and all the tools to maintain it are housed in a standard cargo container. , which could be moved in theater on commercial by sea or air, via an airlift or military sea, or even on a Navy warship. They could be pre-positioned in strategic forward locations, with just two Marines needed to lift the drone out of the container and take it off in a matter of minutes.

If the Marines were fighting from small expeditionary bases throughout the South China Sea, for example, KARGO drones could be pre-positioned in Okinawa, Japan; quickly assembled by the Marines and launched south to Military Sealift Command supply ships outside the South China Sea; loaded with ship supplies; then sent en route to drop supplies at multiple locations each, Dasmalchi said.

Marine Corps Commander Gen. David Berger described his vision for future Marine Corps operations almost immediately after taking command, in his July 2019 Commander’s Planning Guidelines. In it, he said, ” we must re-imagine the capabilities of our amphibious ships, their pre-positioning and their expeditionary logistics so that they are more survivable, less risk of catastrophic losses and agile in their employment ”.

Since then, he’s embarked on a Force Design 2030 effort to reshape the force to be lighter and more suited to this type of small unit distributed operations – but Berger and other leaders have acknowledged that their ability to resupply these units could be Achilles. heel to their forward expeditionary base operations plans.

Berger and his management team offered to rely on unmanned systems – in the air, but also on the ocean surface and underwater – to help move cargo without using large MSC supply ships. that attract the attention of the enemy and are more easily targeted. The Navy is investing in a fleet of smaller, next-generation logistics vessels, so that they can have a greater number of smaller supply vessels that can more easily blend in with commercial traffic, but for the Marines scattered around the theater , the last mile of delivery is likely to come via unmanned platforms.

Walsh said that because there is no registration program with formal requirements yet, there is no official timeline – but there is a clearly understood urgency.

Kaman has previously performed demonstrations with a half-scale model focused on drivetrain and aerial vehicle design, and Dasmalchi said several lessons emerged that informed modifications to the large-scale vehicle. The range package used by the UAV, under development by Near Earth Autonomy, is currently being tested separately on replacement aircraft. Command and control systems for various delivery options, such as compliant pods, sling loads or even air drops, are being developed by DreamHammer.

By the end of this calendar year, he said, the full-scale demonstrator will undergo ground testing. Flight tests of this aerial vehicle will begin early next year, and after an effort to integrate with the range package and mission systems, a full flight test of the system is expected to take place by next year. end of 2022. All this is done with internal research and development funds. Dasmalchi said, because the company believes its product is the only one that exists to meet the needs of Marines.

“The top three things we’re really trying to tackle are reliability, maintainability, and affordability. These are the top three values ​​that we know our customers are eager to achieve, and General Berger has been very clear on speed to market, bringing new capabilities, ”said Walsh.

Everything in the design is geared to these principles: the four rotors are interchangeable and all the blades inside the rotors are interchangeable, for example, reducing the need to keep many spare parts on hand. The engine is fuel efficient and available today – Walsh said the hope is to eventually switch to an electric or hybrid power system to reduce or eliminate his reliance on jet fuel, but that technology is not yet enough mature. A gasoline engine allows Kaman to put this product into service in a year or two without waiting for any major technological development.

“Our schedule is as follows: we are currently working on demonstration, from concept to concept flight in less than six months this year. Next year we’ll be doing a full-scale demonstration… and if the Marine Corps thinks that’s where they want to go, we can be in production as soon as possible, ”Walsh said. “Basically, in a five-year window, we’d like to be at full blast. “

Kaman had hoped to unveil his full-size model this week at the Modern Day Marine exhibit at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, but the event was canceled last month due to growing concerns over COVID-19.

Instead, Kaman will bring the model to the AUSA exhibit with the leadership of the military in October, hoping to attract other potential clients, including the Navy and MSC, the Coast Guard, and the United States. foreign armed forces.

For more information on the drone, click here.

The Marines’ unmanned logistics System-Air technology demonstration effort has small, medium and large components within the family of systems. Walsh and Dasmalchi said Kaman wanted to tackle the medium transport drone first, as their conversations with the Marines revealed the greater urgency around this need. But the company is also considering the heavy lift variant, which would be similar to the optional K-MAX manned helicopter. Walsh said Kaman and the Marine Corps are working to find funds to repair the two put on the back burner and upgrade them with a modern autonomy package.

“At this size of helicopter, with this size of capacity, it’s really unique. It’s a niche product, that’s why they initially wanted it, and that’s why they’re getting interested in it again, ”said Walsh, adding that Kaman had renamed this revamped K-MAX effort Titan.

But this large capacity comes at a cost, which includes optional flight safety features for manned operations.

Although the company has not discussed the cost of the KARGO, Kaman calls it an “attritable” aircraft, which the military has increasingly used to denote unmanned systems cheap enough that it is not a big problem if one of them is destroyed or lost during operations.

The way Kaman thinks the Marines intend to operate these UAVs, Walsh said, “even if one of those things is shot down, guess what, we’re coming right behind it. And that’s the beauty of it. this one at a price that you are not with manned planes. “

Megan Eckstein is the Naval Warfare reporter for Defense News. She has been covering military news since 2009, focusing on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, procurement programs, and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumnus.