Afghanistan — K‑MAX: unmanned aerial alternative to convoys

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan— 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.

A K‑MAX heli­copter with Marine Unmanned Aer­i­al Vehi­cle Squadron 1 rests on a heli­pad pri­or to liftoff for a sup­ply mis­sion in Hel­mand province, Afghanistan, April 30.
Source: Cpl. Isaac Lam­berth
Click to enlarge

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[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. 

O’Con­nor 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[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. 

Sgt. Trevor Scar­ber­ry, an Air Vehi­cle Oper­a­tor with CRUAS said he has helped cre­ate new pro­ce­dures for the aircraft. 

“Since no one has done this and it’s all brand new, we’re hav­ing to devel­op new ways of doing things,” said Scar­ber­ry, of Choctaw, Okla. 

He said new pro­ce­dures have been imple­ment­ed for safe­ty, land­ing zone and air space coor­di­na­tion. One such pro­ce­dure ensures the safe­ty of ground crews unload­ing the K‑MAX once it reach­es its des­ti­na­tions. The inter­mesh­ing duel rotors spin with­in a few feet of the ground and sur­round­ing per­son­nel must be keen­ly aware of the down tilt of the rotor blades. 

Even though the K‑MAX is still in its tri­al run, Scar­ber­ry said he is very pleased with the per­for­mance of the aircraft. 

“The pre­ci­sion of the sys­tem is amaz­ing,” he said. “I’ve been impressed and surprised.” 

In addi­tion to resup­ply­ing units on the ground, the K‑MAX will also sup­port the reduc­tion of inter­na­tion­al troops. While NATO forces pre­pare to with­draw from Afghanistan, the K‑MAX will be work­ing along­side them. 

“As the draw­down occurs, there will be few­er vehi­cles and a greater demand for air trans­porta­tion,” O’Con­nor said. “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. 

Allied Com­mand Oper­a­tions

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →