The US Army has contracted Kaman Air Vehicles and Near Earth Autonomy to conduct a military resupply demonstration using a heavy-lift vertical takeoff and landing (HVTOL) drone.
For the project, the companies will provide a system with a minimum weight capacity of 800 pounds (362.8 kilograms) and a range of more than 100 miles (161 kilometers).
The contract supports the US Army’s goal to decrease risks to soldiers during logistical operations by employing an autonomous lift capability.
The initiative will receive a drone based on Kaman’s proprietary KARGO system, a mission-specific VTOL aircraft designed with enhanced lift capacity, endurance, and functionality in austere environments.
KARGO has a rugged architecture for convenient mobility and features a modular attachment system that can be leveraged for other missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, communications relay, search and rescue, and electronic warfare.
Meanwhile, Near Earth will develop autonomy software for the HVTOL to secure “mission assurance through responsive autonomy,” allowing warfighters to focus on their tasks instead of controlling a drone.
The software will incorporate obstacle detection, navigation, manual override, and other components to maintain operability when other drone parts malfunction.
“Between Near Earth’s expertise in aerial autonomy and Kaman’s background in uncrewed logistics and rotorcraft manufacturing, we have the synergistic skills needed to develop a single aerial system that serves many different applications,” Kaman KARGO General Manager Romin Dasmalchi stated.
Expanding HVTOL Support
The contract follows a similar program in October 2022 seeking a military version of the KARGO vehicle for a Field User Capability Assessment under the US Marine Corps.
Alongside the aircraft, the initiative ordered an autonomous logistics demonstration in a mission-relevant environment for future lift research and development.
“The HVTOL UAS program partnership with Kaman enables us to broaden our current scope from developing an aerial resupply aircraft for the Marine Corps to creating an autonomous multi-mission aircraft that can autonomously address a wide variety of critical needs,” Near Earth Autonomy CEO Sanjiv Singh said.