The Navy has agreed to buy four unmanned cargo helicopters and plans to send two of them to Afghanistan this year, according to the Naval Air Systems Command.

NAVAIR announced the contracts with Boeing/Frontier Systems and Lockheed Martin for $29.9 and $45.8 million, respectively, in a news release last month. Under the terms of the contracts, which called for “cargo unmanned aircraft system services,” Boeing will provide two A160T Hummingbirds and Lockheed will provide two Kaman K-MAX helicopters.

The two that will be deployed in the autumn will be used to deliver supplies to remote outposts as part of a Navy trial that aims to reduce Marines’ exposure to roadside bombs during supply missions.

In a phone interview, Bettina Chavanne, Lockheed Martin representative for the K-MAX, described the unmanned aircraft as: “… a simple, elegant solution to help [Marines] deal with the challenges of [roadside bombs], getting troops resupplied high in the mountains and reducing the risk for our U.S. soldiers.”

Vic Sweberg, Unmanned Airborne Systems director for Boeing, said in a release from Boeing that the Hummingbird had proved its ability to deliver cargo to forward operating bases during demonstration flights. “We are confident in its ability to do the same in battlefield conditions,” he said.

Each contract announced by the Navy includes development of two unmanned helicopters and three remote ground control stations. The systems will be government-owned and contractor-operated. Each contract also includes a separate option for a six-month deployment, according to the NAVAIR news release.

In the summer, the Navy will test the helicopters in the U.S., then select one type to deploy to Afghanistan for six months in the fall, the NAVAIR news release said.

“While we only plan on deploying one system … we will explore options for using the second system for future operational missions and/or science and technology development,” said Capt. Tim Dunigan, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Air Systems.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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