US Marines spend $75.7M to get unmanned cargo helicopters for Afghanistan war

Marines want unmanned helicopters for difficult operations

Boeing hummingbird
The US Marines are going to be one of the first military organizations to get new unmanned helicopters for use in actual battle conditions.

The US Naval Air Systems Command has given Lockheed Martin $45.8 million to buy two of its K-MAX unmanned helicopters and Boeing's Frontier subsidiary $29.9 million to buy two A160T Hummingbird unmanned aircraft.  The Navy/Marines will ultimately choose one of the unmanned helicopters to support Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

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The 5,100-pound K-MAX helicopter can lift 6,000 pounds and fly 267 nautical miles and can stay in the air about three hours depending on conditions and payload.

According to Boeing the Hummingbird helicopter is designed to fly 2,500 nautical miles and can remain in the air for 24 hours carrying a payload of more than 300 pounds. The A160 is 35 feet long with a 36-foot rotor diameter. It will fly at an estimated top speed of 140 knots at ceilings up to 30,000 feet, which is about 10,000 feet higher than conventional helicopters can fly today, Boeing says.  

The Hummingbird was developed by Frontier Aircraft. In May 2004, the company was acquired by Boeing and integrated into Boeing Phantom Works and then into the Advanced Systems group of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

lockheed kmax
Missions for both helicopters include reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, communications relay and precision re-supply. The companies demonstrated their unmanned helicopters for Army, Navy and Marine Corps officials earlier this year.

In its request for the unmanned helicopter, the Marines "identified the need to distribute combat units over larger geographic areas through which ground supply routes may not always be optimal or secure. Although the notional size of an individual combat unit requiring logistic support is a Marine company, the flexibility to occasionally resupply smaller units may also prove beneficial. Additionally, for certain operations or phases of operations, logistic support may be required directly from naval vessels located a considerable distance from shore."

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