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Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman Air Vehicles Secure U.S. Army Contract for Heavy Lift VTOL Capability

Near Earth will serve as prime contractor for the autonomy system powering the Army’s uncrewed aircraft.

Near Earth Autonomy

Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman won a U.S. Army contract to demonstrate a drone to deliver supplies over a range of more than 100 miles.
Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman have secured a new contract to demonstrate a modular uncrewed aerial system for resupplying troops, conducting surveillance, and other missions.

Near Earth Autonomy Inc. and Kaman Air Vehicles yesterday announced that the U.S. Army has awarded them a contract to demonstrate a resupply uncrewed aerial system with a minimum load capacity of 800 lb. and flying range of more than 100 miles.

Heavy-lift vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) are intended to get soldiers out of harm’s way and supplement resupply trips. The U.S. Army currently depends on smaller drones and heavier crewed aircraft for resupply missions, but this also comes with higher risk for flight crews, especially in hostile regions, noted the companies in a release.

Pittsburgh-based Near Earth said the new drone will be designed to meet the needs of the Army in both lift capacity and endurance while ensuring mission success, even in contested environments. The company clarified that the UAS will be able to perform different missions, and a common attachment system will streamline the switching of configurations.

This modularity will support resupply/contested logistics; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare (EW); communications relay (CR); and search and rescue (SAR), it said.

Partners to combine aerial expertise

Near Earth Autonomy is the prime contractor and is responsible for the autonomy system. The company said it will provide mission assurance through responsive autonomy, meaning less time spent directly controlling the UASes.

The autonomy features include navigation, obstacle detection, and manual override systems. Essential components are designed to fail safely and function even if other parts of the system malfunction, said Near Earth.

“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.”

Bloomfield, Conn.-based Kaman, a division of Kaman Corp., plans to use its existing KARGO unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as the base for Near Earth's UAS.

“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,” stated Romin Dasmalchi, general manager for Kaman's KARGO UAV business.

Near Earth recognized for drone delivery developments

In April, the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) nominated Near Earth Autonomy as a finalist for the Humanitarian Award in the “Xcellence in Mission—Humanitarian” category. Near Earth earned its nomination by developing drones to deliver life-saving blood and medical supplies.

Near Earth said its recognized work with drone delivery technology has continued into the new contract with Kaman and the U.S. Army. The company asserted that it has always focused on enabling aircraft to autonomously take off, fly, and land safely, with or without GPS.

The new VTOL UAS partnership with the U.S Army will enable further development for broader use, including scaling Kaman’s original KARGO UAV design for larger payloads, noted the partners. Near Earth and Kaman plan to demonstrate the new KARGO UAV's capabilities at Project Convergence 2024, displaying applications ranging from cargo resupply to reconnaissance.

Near Earth Autonomy said it provides assurance across environments, capabilities, and scale.

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Near Earth Autonomy

Near Earth Autonomy and Kaman won a U.S. Army contract to demonstrate a drone to deliver supplies over a range of more than 100 miles.

Robot Technologies