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Autonomous systems have become more and more attractive for cargo missions in both commercial and military applications. The US Department of Defense is looking for a range of small, medium, and large cargo UAVs for different missions. Within this framework, the Navy has been looking for a tactical cargo resupply unmanned air vehicle for the Marine Corps. It is interested in providing an autonomous aerial delivery capability to the Marines. 

In an Unmanned Logistics Support (ULS) competition that will be held in Arizona in January 2020, the service expects to see UAV prototypes that can carry at least 27.2kg (60lb) of cargo in various configurations commonly found in USMC company, platoon or squad resupply operations. That typically means 5-gallon Jerry Cans to carry water or fuel, ammo cases, and Meals, Ready-to-Eat cases.

The prototypes are required to be able to fly 5.4nm (10km), drop off cargo and return empty to the launch site via an automated launch, waypoint navigation and landing flight control system, according to flightglobal.com.

“We’re looking for companies that already have a robust prototype that can meet the challenge requirements and are excited to see what innovative technologies are demonstrated,” says Christina Petrow, team lead of the ULS-A effort.

The Naval Air Systems Command’s Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Winning the competition is no guarantee of a future contract production award from the USN. However, the service says that “successful participation in this prize challenge may result in the award of another transaction agreement or award of a procurement contract for experimental purposes or a combination of these.”

As part of that joint-service push, the US Army and Marine Corps are working together on a Joint Tactical Autonomous Aerial Resupply System (JTAARS) concept. JTAARS calls for a lightweight UAV of less than 599kg (1,320lb), which can be easily carried on a small-sized vehicle, with minimal support equipment and maintenance required. The services want the UAV to be able to carry 136kg to 636kg of cargo.