Drone helicopter brings supplies to U.S. troops in Afghanistan

For the first time, the U.S. military is using a drone to deliver food and supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 17, in a 90-minute flight, the Marine Corps deployed a cargo-lifting K-MAX helicopter drone to carry 3,500 pounds of food and supplies to U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Payne.

"We delivered cargo ... that was supposed to be delivered by convoy. Now that convoy has three pallets that it does not have to carry," Maj. Kyle O'Connor, the officer in charge of the squadron's cargo resupply, said in a statement.

The resupply mission was carried out by a unit out of Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in Twentynine Palms.

The K-MAX is the latest robotic aircraft to join the military's expanding drone fleet, which include high-flying spy jets, small hand-launched planes and missile-firing hunter-killer aircraft.

The heavy-lift drone chopper is made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kaman Aerospace Corp. Under a $45.8-million contract with the Navy, the companies developed the unmanned K-MAX helicopter and are delivering two of them.

Lockheed and Kaman teamed up in 2007 to transform Kaman's manned power-lift helicopter into a drone capable of autonomous or remote-controlled cargo delivery. Kaman designed the airframe, and Lockheed designed the helicopter's mission management and control systems.

Because the K-MAX drone can resupply troops without risking lives, the military hopes it can reduce the number of truck convoys to forward operating bases, which are targeted by roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan.

The drone's first flight in the combat zone is part of a six-month assessment period in which the military will decide whether to buy more of the robotic choppers.

william.hennigan@latimes.com

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