Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Army have demonstrated the autonomous deployment of an unmanned ground vehicle by an unmanned aircraft.

The test, at Fort Benning in Georgia, involved the Lockheed/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopter airlifting Lockheed’s Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) vehicle into position to conduct an autonomous resupply and reconnaissance mission.

Both the SMSS and the K-Max communicated with a remote operations center beyond-line-of-sight via satellite communications during the exercise. A Lockheed Gyrocam electro-optical/infrared sensor on the SMSS operated throughout the mission, including inflight.

The demo simulated the resupply of a village. The wheeled SMSS was manually hooked to the K-Max as a sling load and airlifted to the landing zone, where it was automatically released to begin its mission. At the resupply point, the SMSS was shut down and unloaded.

After the resupply mission was complete, the SMSS autonomously traveled to the observation point and raised its mast-mounted Gyrocam to conduct surveillance, sending high-definition video back to the operations center via satcom.

The demo was conducted for the Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, which is planning another demonstration. This could be an end-to-end mission, including autonomous deployment and recovery by the K-Max, Lockheed says.

The K-Max already has demonstrated automated hook-up and retrograde cargo capability under the Army’s Autonomous Technologies for Unmanned Air Systems research program. The capability is being refined for a further demonstration, the company says.