Congress to Army: Get Your Own Cargo Drone

Congress has ordered the Army to reconsider its initial refusal to stand up a cargo drone program despite the success the Marine Corps has had flying Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX unmanned cargo helicopter in Afghanistan.

The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee commended the Marine Corps for the performance of the K-MAX cargo helicopters that have flown missions in Afghanistan since November 2011.

The K-MAX has transported a range of supplies from mine-roller equipment to generators to ammunition to medical supplies and even mail, said Navy Capt. Patrick Smith, program manager for the Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air Systems. The record haul for the K-MAX was 30,000 pounds over six mission for one day, officials have said.

Despite the perceived success of the program and the similar need facing the Army, Army leaders have consistently said they have no plans to start their own cargo UAS program and have only observed the Marine Corps’ program from afar. Subcommittee members can’t understand why.

“The committee is concerned that the Army, despite having very similar logistical challenges, does not have a cargo UAS program. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of the Army to submit a report to the congressional defense committees, by February 15, 2014, assessing the potential utility of an Army cargo UAS,” the subcommittee wrote into their mark of the 2014 defense budget.

Lawmakers want the Army to estimate the cost to buy, operate and sustain a cargo UAS program similar to Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX. The subcommittee also wants details on how a cargo UAS program would fit into the Army’s larger logistical structure.

Marine Corps leaders have said the unmanned K-MAX has allowed ground commanders to order more supply missions to distant combat outposts in Afghanistan when poor weather or fire fighters would have restricted manned helicopter missions.

The Corps initially sent the K-MAX to Afghanistan as a test program. However, in April, Corps leaders indefinitely extended its stay in the combat zone.

After the K-MAX’s first deployment to Afghanistan, Naval and Marine Corps aviation leaders heaped praise upon the program. NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. David Architzel  highlighted how the K-MAX kept other convoys off the road and away from improvised explosive devices.

“This is a great example of integration while fulfilling the ‘urgent needs’ of the warfighter,” Architzel said at a post-deployment debrief July 10, 2012. “Every time you can eliminate even a portion of a convoy, you eliminate the possibility of someone losing their life from an [improvised explosive device] on the roads.”

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to Military.com. He can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com.
  • Engineer

    I wonder if we can get the Congress to order the Army to get it’s own cargo plane. Maybe just a small one that could haul stuff around Afghanistan. Maybe we could call it the Spartan………..wait………..

  • Carl

    Why doesn’t Congress order the Marine Corps to stand up its own medical corps instead of tasking the Navy and Army with supporting them in the war zone.

    Army medic’s and medivac helo’s have had to leave deployed Army units in Afghanistan to sustain the Marines in their Helmand provience AO for 8 years now. Do the Marines pay the Army for this service?

    • Pat

      Navy medical personnel will always support the Marines because we are assigned to the Marines. That will never change. The Marines have their own medevac helos but they can’t be everywhere. Neither can the Army. If you haven’t heard. we are in the joint service age where everyone helps everyone else. No more o it alone and not cooperating.

      • blight_

        True; but Marines should probably recognize the reason why they are so cost-effective compared to Big Army: it splits the bill with its room-mate, the Navy.

        The Army’s roommate, the Air Force, well…

        • pedestrian
        • UAVGeek

          You know I know a ton of Air Force 4Ns (medics for those of you not familiar with AFSCs) who have deployed with Army and Marine units and done exactly the same work as their Army and Navy counterparts. Same risks, same combat and same job period. It’s time you people got off your Anti-AF BS.

          • blight_

            The practicalities of wartime usually give way to status quo antebellum postbellum.

      • jnelson

        This is about Congressional Districts and Jobs in them by selling this beyond the Marine Corp. As far as Cooperation when an Army Airborne Unit uses an Air Force plane to conduct an Airborne insertion the cost of operating the Air Craft comes out of the Army Units budget. The polotics of unity get murky when funding is involved

    • Big-Dean

      Carl, FYI, in case you are unaware, the Marine Corp and Navy are basically the same service. The Navy gave birth to the Devil Dogs on their sailing ships way back in 1775 (they were the sharpshooters and such). The Navy and Marine train and fight together, we go to the same schools, and share bases (even though the Marines have a few of their own). Heck, my drill instructor was a Marine even though I was in the Navy. They fight, fly, go to sea together. etc Every heard of an amphibious ship-well they are full of Marines!

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    Maybe congress can take the money from buying those extra Abrams, and send it over to buying the K-Max. The K-Max works, its ugly, and what more do you want?

  • Lance

    Have congress kill GCV crap then the army will have the money for a K-MAX. Face it the dod is broke and we can do with what we have for a while.

  • LPF

    Arent you all part of the same countrys armed forces or did I miss something?

    • blight_

      I don’t have a DD-214 at all.

    • tmb2

      You did miss something. The War on Terror is winding down and the dollars are drying up. The upcoming Budget War may not be as bloody but it’ll just as vicious.

  • blight_

    If the Army won’t consider a drone program, perhaps its because they’re trying to protect rotary aviation from dronification? They’re looking at the writing on the wall: more drone pilots than aircraft pilots in the USAF.

    To be practical, the Army should try teleoperated Blackhawks first, which would simplify logistics considerably. The Marine KMAX venture is very small, which is why they can get away with buying nothing but paying Lockheed to “demonstrate”. The Army knows that once it steps in, the money gets serious, and everyone on HASC/SASC suddenly has an Informed Opinion.

  • top dog

    I don’t think Congress realize how big this program have to be to support the Army supply needs…they don’t realize much but still. What happens when your load start to spin? will the drown automatically cut the load? I doubt it. It work for the Marines because the Marines is a heck of lot smaller than the Army, so therefore they don’t require as much supply, nor do their supplies get delivered for as great a distances as the Army do. In stead of telling the Army what they “SHOULD” do, which is the SECDEF’s job by the way…just supply the funds when the Army do what they have to do.

    • Big-Dean

      it’s the JOB of Congress to oversee all of the operations of government, they may not do a great job, but it is their job. Can you imagine if all government agencies, including the DOD simply did what they wanted to do?

  • chaos0xomega

    Personally, I think the Army is smart to avoid jumping on the drone bandwagon that the other services are getting on. Everyone has this massive hard-on for drones, ignoring the “writing on the wall” that they can be disrupted (very easily) via cyber attacks and ewar systems. When the Marines are suddenly shit up a creek without a paddle because some pimple-faced teenager in China decides that he wants to see how well drone supply helo’s can do barrel rolls, the Army at least will still be able to achieve its operational goals knowing that its supply train is more hardened against such things (though still somewhat vulnerable due to dependence on gps and communications).

    • garr

      True, But!…, you don’t mention nor discuss reduction of risk. The risk of losing lives, not the risk of completing the mission, as described within the last paragraph..,

      “This is a great example of integration while fulfilling the ‘urgent needs’ of the warfighter,” Architzel said at a post-deployment debrief July 10, 2012. “Every time you can eliminate even a portion of a convoy, you eliminate the possibility of someone losing their life from an [improvised explosive device] on the roads.”

      Tools are expensive, and can be replaced. Your service buddies can’t be, and that is perhaps the driving force behind drones…, save lives! It is the one thing that separates the Marines…, they put each Marine’s life as being more important then the Almighty $. Don’t come back at me with vstol histrionics. We all know there are inherent risks during development of any item. I think the taxpayers and Vietnam, hell any fire-fight Veteran, like Hagel, prefer putting more replaceable metal up front then soft, vulnerable, living flesh…, Your buddies…, on the WALL.

      Surviving Heros take all forms. There are Flesh and Bone kind, and the venerable and proven weapons of yesterday and today. It flies, crawls, it gushes flame, it sailed and nearly sank and kept its crews alive. It fired, the barrel red/white hot, until the enemy retreated or it ran out of ammo. It fired submerged in mud and water, dust and blowing sand. It saw the enemy at night and alerted for destruction. It replaced our 5 senses or raised them above the battle surface so we could detect what was happening around us in the vast environment. It revolves around the earth and sees and listens and communicates information and orders. Every Service member owes their lives to these un-sung Heros made out of metal, wires, cameras, batteries and solar cells. We should encourage their evolution if it means more of your buddies and you get to come home in one piece.., with less disabling trauma. Bless body Armor…., wish we had something like it in Nam, not just flack jackets.
      Garr.

      • chaos0xomega

        Replacing the loss of human life with the loss of materiel is a dangerous proposition. When the world begins measuring the cost of wars in a dollar figure rather than in lives lost, we’re going to be in for some real shit.

  • anthony

    I would have like a toy like that., awsome..

  • majr0d

    What the story doesn’t tell you is that contractors are still flying or supervising marines operating the system (has been going on for years). Doesn’t want to have to deploy a bunch of contractors in the early phases of the next deployment.

    It is not mature. Army is waiting for the system to be proven or the bugs worked out. The Corps does it all the time when it lets another service prove a system before it’s adopted. What district is the KMAX in?

    • blight_

      Kaman is based out of Bridgeport, Conn.

      Sen. Richard Blumenthal [D]
      Committee on Armed Services
      Subcommittee on Airland
      Subcommittee on Personnel
      Subcommittee on Seapower
      Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
      Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance
      Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
      Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure (Chairman)
      Committee on the Judiciary
      Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts
      Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights
      Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights
      Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security
      Special Committee on Aging
      Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

      Sen. Christopher Murphy [D]
      Committee on Foreign Relations
      Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs
      Subcommittee on European Affairs (Chair)
      Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection, and Peace Corps
      Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics Affairs
      Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
      Subcommittee on Children and Families
      Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging
      Joint Economic Committee

      1st Congressional District — Rep. John Larson [D]
      Committee on Ways and Means
      Subcommittee on Oversight
      Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures
      Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

      • majr0d

        Tks

  • Ken Badoian

    To Carl…The United States Marines have been part of the Navy Department Since they are a sea going service, and from day one, the Navy has provided Doctors, Hospital Corpsmen, and even Chapilans. Enough said…DA, get a life and be all you can be, an army of???

  • Tad

    Congress is also making demands on the Navy for better, more accurate and timely reporting. Congress just does not trust the DoD at this point, and who can blame them? They’ve been misled and outright lied to repeatedly by the DoD and I’m pleased that they’re finally doing a tighter job of oversight. Of course, this can swing to a micro-managing extreme, but right now this scrutiny is needed. And, hopefully, accountability will go along with it.

  • marc27

    bring back the huey hahaha

  • marc27

    they make it so complicated the huey use to perform all those tasks in the 1960s.

    • FormerDirtDart

      No Huey ever lifted a 6000 lbs sling load in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s

  • Jim

    Why doesn’t the Army leaders want to have a drone system such as the Marines have now; easy answer “we did not think of it first, so therefore we will not be doing it”. Heavens, we would not want to NOT have service rivalry would we? The VERY SIMPLE way to save hundreds of millions of dollars would be to ELIMINATE ALL duplicated services, schools, equipment, uniforms, training, that EACH Branch just has to have. ALL this is predicated by the sole fact that each Branch wants to show the others how big their B***s are compared to everyone else. Add this fact “Its not our money, so why should we care how much we spend for all the nonsense we purchase WITHOUT proper and complete FIELD TESTING BEFORE PURCHASING” and soon we will be talking big money.

  • oblatt1

    The marine drone is operationally useless. This is just another example of rotten marine ideas infecting the rest of the defense forces for corrupt reasons. As long as the marines exist they will continue to drag down the rest of the forces.

  • PolicyWonk

    If the Army is going to adopt a cargo drone – they should just take on the same one the USMC is using once they work out all the bugs, etc.

  • garr

    True, But!…, you don’t mention nor discuss reduction of risk. The risk of losing lives, not the risk of completing the mission, as described within the last paragraph..,

    “This is a great example of integration while fulfilling the ‘urgent needs’ of the warfighter,” Architzel said at a post-deployment debrief July 10, 2012. “Every time you can eliminate even a portion of a convoy, you eliminate the possibility of someone losing their life from an [improvised explosive device] on the roads.”

    Tools are expensive, and can be replaced. Your service buddies can’t be, and that is perhaps the driving force behind drones…, save lives! It is the one thing that separates the Marines…, they put each Marine’s life as being more important then the Almighty $. Don’t come back at me with vstol histrionics. We all know there are inherent risks during development of any item. I think the taxpayers and Vietnam, hell any fire-fight Veteran, like Hagel, prefer putting more replaceable metal up front then soft, vulnerable, living flesh…, Your buddies…, on the WALL.

    Surviving Heros take all forms. There are Flesh and Bone kind, and the venerable and proven weapons of yesterday and today. It flies, crawls, it gushes flame, it sailed and nearly sank and kept its crews alive. It fired, the barrel red/white hot, until the enemy retreated or it ran out of ammo. It fired submerged in mud and water, dust and blowing sand. It saw the enemy at night and alerted for destruction. It replaced our 5 senses or raised them above the battle surface so we could detect what was happening around us in the vast environment. It revolves around the earth and sees and listens and communicates information and orders. Every Service member owes their lives to these un-sung Heros made out of metal, wires, cameras, batteries and solar cells. We should encourage their evolution if it means more of your buddies and you get to come home in one piece.., with less disabling trauma. Bless body Armor…., wish we had something like it in Nam, not just flack jackets.
    Garr.

    Read more: https://www.defensetech.org/2013/05/23/congress-to-arm
    Defense.org

    • majr0d

      “It is the one thing that separates the Marines…, they put each Marine’s life as being more important then the Almighty $.”

      That’s an overstatement. All the branches value their troops lives. Heard of the XM25? Airburst capability, laser range finder and ballistic computer. Allows the squad to reach out to twice the range with HE. Marines aren’t buying it. Then there’s the M4 upgrade where EVERY grunt can fire full auto if the need/emergency arises. I won’t follow that up by saying the Army values soldier’s lives more than the Corps does Marines. It would be silly.

  • retired462

    Sounds like another case of buy it – no matter the cost, ’cause they’ll be built in one of the congressmens congressional district. Let DOD decide where their spending priorities lie.

  • Phono

    K-Max is great projekt, as I see it. Doesn’t the K-Max open up more flexible, more agile, less dependend actions?

  • Nilsplat

    Why reinvent the wheel? Use the same one the Marines are using. Save on parts, expertise and development. The interservice rivalry is as ridiculous as the House senate debocle.