Even though it's still officially a prototype transport system, the K-max unmanned delivery helicopter from Lockheed Martin and Kamen has become a workhorse for US Marine Corps. But despite its strong showing throughout the War in Afghanistan, the future of this pilotless chopper remains uncertain.
It was only supposed to last six months when the platform first entered in the Afghanistan theatre in December of 2011. However, three and a half years later, in May of this year, the two K-Max prototypes finally made it back to the states and is currently undergoing technical assessments in a Lockheed facility. Its extended service time is a direct result of the platform's exceptional performance according Captain Patrick Smith, program executive officer for multi-mission UAS operations. "This excelled beyond anything we thought possible," he recently told Flight Global.
But despite its success in theatre, the Marines have not yet decided whether or not to fully fund the program as an ongoing asset. According to Smith, the USMC is discussing the platform's future use but has yet to establish a timeline for doing so. "I can't say when this will happen; this is still right now in a primary stage," he told Flight Global.
But given the increased dangers that modern military convoys face — from sniper fire to IEDs — the USMC has an obligation to protect its service men and women from danger and implementing the K-Max as an ongoing program would be a fantastic first step. In the meantime, Lockheed is planning a number of test flights in the coming months to determine the feasibility of using the autonomous platform as a delivery vehicle for the company's upcoming unmanned ground vehicle at Ft Benning, GA. [Flight Global]