Naval Air Systems Command is putting the Lockheed Martin [LMT] built K-MAX unmanned cargo aircraft through its paces this week at the command’s facilities in Patuxent River, Md., in preparation for operational tests in Afghanistan later this year.
The first of two K-MAX test UAS is currently undergoing “Electromagnetic Environmental Effects” (E3) testing at the Naval Air Station-Patuxent River, according to a command statement issued this week. The E3 tests, being conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air Systems program office (PMA-266), will be the precursor to the required Quick Reaction Assessment (QRA) drills before deploying into theater.
The E3 and follow-on QRA tests “will help insure that the aircraft operates as designed while being exposed to ambient electrical signals in Afghanistan.” said Eric Pratson, integrated product team lead for the Cargo UAS program, in the command statement.
The QRA evaluation for the K-MAX will be performed at Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz. by Marines Corps personnel from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU), under the Navy’s Operational Test and Evaluation Force (OPTEVFOR) according to the NAVAIR notice.
The Boeing [BA]-built A160 Hummingbird, which competing against the K-MAX for the lucrative Navy, Marine Corps Cargo UAS deal, has yet to go through E3 or QRA evaluations. Service officials anticipate doing a downselect to either the Boeing or Lockheed Martin platforms once both complete the QRAs, Dan Spoor, vice president for Lockheed Martin’s aviation systems, said during an April 8 briefing in Arlington, Va.
Navy and Marine Corps officials have yet to determine what role the second K-MAX platform will play, in terms of the Cargo UAS mission. However, command officials noted that it would likely either go operational or be used for science and technology development, should the Lockheed Martin variant be selected.
Last December, Navy officials awarded dueling development contracts to Lockheed Martin and Boeing, to develop an unmanned airlift capability in response to an urgent requirements request by Marine Corps forces operating in Afghanistan.
Aside from ongoing efforts with the sea service, Lockheed Martin is also peddling the K-MAX for Army requirements.
On Wednesday, the Army awarded Lockheed Martin a $47 million deal to “provide for procurement of autonomous technologies for unmanned aerial systems to maximize performance requirements and capabilities with mature technologies,” according to the contract released by DoD.
Under the deal, company officials will look to leverage "previously developed technologies" to increase autonomous capabilities- -at the mission and platform level–for "aerial precision delivery" operations via a Joint Capability Technology Demonstrator (JCTD), according to Spoor’s April 8 presentation.
Primarily, the JCTD work will focus on supporting Army cargo UAS requirements, including potential ISR and countermeasure applications for a potential unmanned airlifter. However, Spoor was quick to note that the intent of the JCTD was not to pile on additional requirements, adding the company’s intent "is to keep it as simple as possible," regarding those secondary capabilities.
Boeing is also under contract to develop the A160 for the Army as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.