Move over, Amazon: The US military is also developing a delivery drone

Drones could deliver supplies, removing soldiers from dangerous missions

The U.S. Army is exploring the use of drones to deliver supplies to soldiers on the battlefield, a potentially game-changing use for an emerging technology that until now has been mostly identified with the future delivery of household items.

Currently, supplies are mostly transported in road convoys that are vulnerable to attack because they travel along known supply routes. Drones would take supply into the air, make it possible to modify supply routes and, perhaps most importantly, take soldiers out of high-risk situations.

"When we use autonomous air transport, we create a lot of dilemmas for adversaries, because we're not limited to a ground route," said Larry Perecko, branch chief for Science and Technology at the U.S. Army's Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Sustainment Battle Lab in Fort Lee, Virginia.

There are other advantages, too.

Perecko spoke with soldiers who told of their frustration delivering supplies in mountainous terrain, like that in Afghanistan. Often drivers could see the delivery location, but it would take eight hours of driving to get there because of the slow going on treacherous mountain roads.

He said inspiration came from the U.S. Marines, which successfully used an unmanned KMAX helicopter to deliver 2 million kilograms of supplies to units in Afghanistan.

598120 Michele Hunt/DOD

A KMAX unmanned aerial vehicle hovers over a landing zone at Camp Dwyer in Afghanistan on June 3, 2012.

CASCOM had been concentrating on automating road conveys, but "as we looked at the Marines, we asked, 'Why not by air?'" Perecko said.

And so the Sustainment Aerial Mobility Vehicle project was born.

It turns out the Army Research Lab had already been looking at similar technology: a hoverbike produced by the U.K.'s Malloy Aeronautics. Originally envisioned as a tool to transport troops on a battlefield, it also has an unmanned variant called the Marshall Drone.

That technology is now being explored as part of the project. One of the project's goals is making a drone capable of piloted or remote operation. It would have a 200-kilometer range, a 70-kilometer-per-hour cruising speed and a 350-kilogram payload capacity.

But those specifications could change as the Army reassesses and refines its requirements.

In November last year, engineers from Malloy Aeronautics traveled to Fort Lee to demonstrate a one-third-scale version of the drone.

151105 a us054 622 Terrance Bell/DOD

Robert Baltrusch, industrial design team lead, Survice Engineering, remotely operates a one-third scale electric drone called a hoverbike for a demonstration in November 2015 at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee. 

"It's still a work in progress," Perecko said. "They showed how you would program it and how it would execute a mission."

It's not just the Army that is working on such projects. Sikorsky has been working on an unmanned version of its UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter for autonomous cargo missions.

"We've done a couple of experiments to date and we’re getting pretty good results from those experiments," Perecko said. "We think it has a lot of promise. The technology is on the right path."

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?