Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman Air Vehicles have secured a contract from the U.S. Army to demonstrate a robust resupply uncrewed aerial system (UAS) capable of lifting loads exceeding 800 pounds and covering distances of over 100 miles. This innovative heavy-lift Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS is poised to enhance military operations while safeguarding soldiers by reducing their exposure to hostile environments.

The U.S. Army’s decision to invest in this VTOL UAS program signals a shift away from traditional methods of resupply missions, which have often relied on smaller drones and crewed aircraft. These missions have posed considerable risks to military personnel, particularly when operating in challenging and dangerous regions. Near Earth’s expertise in autonomous flight technology and Kaman’s track record in rotorcraft and uncrewed solutions align with the Army’s vision to modernize military logistics.

Near Earth Autonomy as the prime contractor will be responsible for developing the autonomy system, a critical component that ensures mission success by offering responsive autonomy. This feature enables soldiers to concentrate on their primary duties while the UAS handles navigation, obstacle detection, and manual overrides. Importantly, the system is designed to function safely even in the presence of failures within the UAS components.

The foundation of this new UAS is Kaman’s KARGO UAV, a purpose-built autonomous VTOL aircraft capable of carrying up to 800 pounds of payload. The KARGO UAV is engineered to meet the Army’s requirements for lift capacity and endurance, with a focus on ensuring mission success, even in contested environments. Its rugged design facilitates easy transport and supports various mission profiles, including Resupply/Contested Logistics, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR), Electronic Warfare (EW), Communications Relay (CR), and Search and Rescue (SAR).

This project represents a significant expansion of Near Earth Autonomy’s capabilities, moving from developing aerial resupply aircraft for the Marine Corps to creating an autonomous multi-mission aircraft capable of addressing diverse critical needs. Romin Dasmalchi, General Manager for the Kaman KARGO UAV business, emphasized the synergistic skills between the two companies in advancing aerial mobility solutions for military applications.

The KARGO UAV’s selection by the United States Marine Corps in 2022 for the Medium Unmanned Logistics Systems – Air (MULS-A) program marked a pivotal moment. Now, with the Army partnership, the development scope expands further, including the potential for scaling the KARGO UAV design for even larger payloads. These capabilities will be showcased at Project Convergence 2024, illustrating the UAS’s versatility in a wide array of applications, from cargo resupply to reconnaissance.

Why it’s important: The collaboration between Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman could help to advance military logistics and also the possibilities of heavy-lift VTOL UAS’ deployment commercially in a rapidly evolving landscape of aerial mobility technology.

Posted by Naish Gaubatz