By B.C. Kessner

QUANTICO, Va.–A Lockheed Martin [LMT]-Kaman team and Boeing [BA] are squaring off in a competition to supply a rotary wing cargo unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for Marine Corps urgent resupply needs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We are very optimistic and looking forward to the opportunity to get K-MAX into theater,” Michele Evans, vice president, business development for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, told Defense Daily here yesterday at the Modern Day Marine Expo. “Once they realize how they can get supplies moved without convoys…and IED threats, they will be impressed with this highly-reliable and proven aircraft,” she added.

Lockheed Martin and Kaman developed K-MAX for autonomous battlefield resupply and similar missions. It is an optionally piloted version of Kaman’s manned power lift helicopter used extensively in the logging industry.

Boeing will offer Hummingbird as its competition entry. Responses are due Oct. 21 according to a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) request for proposals (RFP) issued last week.

NAVAIR and the Marine Corps will have two very different aircraft to assess as the contest unfolds. K-MAX has an intermeshing rotor design that is quiet and provides robust lift capability. Hummingbird is fast, with a traditional rotor and tail rotor design, and world-record endurance.

“Hummingbird was designed from day one as an unmanned aircraft that is low cost, low maintenance, and able to deliver the right capability,” Don LaRiviere, market development manager, unmanned airborne systems at Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security unit, told Defense Daily.

“We are very comfortable with the RFP, it is very straightforward and we have already demonstrated the technical capabilities,” LaRiviere said.

At Dugway Proving Ground in Utah last January, K-MAX and Hummingbird both demonstrated resupply capabilities and key performance requirements that included cruise flight at 15,000 feet, hover out of ground effect at 12,000 feet, the ability to deliver 2,500 pounds in six hours, as well as single and multiple cargo drop capability.

NAVAIR is looking for technically acceptable solutions to meet the immediate rapid action deployment of cargo UAS into theater and help get trucks off the road in Afghanistan. It has the option to award zero, one, or two contracts based on the responses to the RFP.

Next, NAVAIR will select zero, one, or two systems for a quick reaction assessment. Based on the results of the assessment, it has the option to deploy selected systems into theater. The timeline for such deployment would be late in 2011.