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U.S. military to experiment with unmanned helicopters

Faced with increasing casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the U.S. military will experiment with remote-controlled, unmanned helicopters to deliver supplies to remote outposts, according to a report Thursday.

The U.S. Navy is seeking a contractor to operate the program, scheduled for 2011, the report in Stars and Stripes said.

“This is a rapid deployment effort being led by the Navy in response to an urgent needs requirement for a Cargo UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) capability in support of Marine Corps forces engaged in Operation Enduring Freedom,” Eric Pratson, leader of the Navy team behind the project, told Stripes.

Lockheed-Martin and Kaman Aerospace say their K-MAX unmanned helicopter system can do the job. They tested it at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground earlier this year and it met or exceeded requirements, according to a Lockheed-Martin statement.

Video: Watch K-MAX test

“It keeps our Marines readily resupplied and out of harm’s way,” Dan Spoor, Lockheed Martin Aviation Systems vice president, said in a statement.

The company says the K-MAX can operate day or night, deliver up to 3,450 pounds of supplies to up to four locations per trip and hover at 12,000 feet.

Boeing’s A160T Hummingbird unmanned copter is also expected to compete for the contract, according to the Stripes report. Boeing’s website says the A160T can stay aloft for 24 hours and operate as high as 30,000 feet, 10,000 feet higher than conventional copters. It has a payload of 2,500 pounds, Boeing says.

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