Military commanders have come to understand that victory is closely related to having sufficient units, soldiers, weapons, and supplies at the right time and place—logistics, in other words, has become a critical part of military operations. Historically, superior logistical capabilities have given a competitive advantage to militaries. Tactical logistics is sustaining the units at a tactical level with necessary supplies such as weapons, ammunition, fuel, rations, and providing services like maintenance and medical aid.
One of the big differences between business and military logistics is that the military conducts logistics operations in hostile areas and supports troops on the move. Obviously, carrying out military logistics operations in terrains that are exposed to the enemy would cause security challenges and bigger uncertainties that can disrupt operational effectiveness.
Unmanned Aerial systems have been extensively employed by militaries in operations such as reconnaissance, surveillance, and armed attacks. Changing economic conditions and advances in technology are now enabling unmanned systems employed to support logistic operations. Considering the historical and potential benefits of unmanned technology in both civilian and military sectors, using this technology in military logistics would prove valuable in reducing costs, taking more risks with fewer casualties, increasing capacity and speeding up delivery processes.
China successfully tests ‘world’s largest cargo drone in Oct 2018
A Chinese company has tested the ‘world’s largest’ cargo drone Feihong-98 (FH-98) which is said to carry a payload of 1.5 tonnes (1,500kg). The FH-98 has a maximum takeoff weight of 5.25 tonnes (5,250 kg) and maximum range of 1,200 km. Further, it is capable of reaching a flying altitude of 4.5 km and a cruising speed of 180 kmph.
A large commercial drone Feihong-98 (FH-98) developed and modified by the China Academy of Aerospace Electronics Technology made a successful test flight at Baotou test site in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, state-run China Daily reported. It was adapted from the prototype of the Shifei Y5B, a China-developed transport plane. As China’s first fully domestically-built transport aircraft, the Shifei Y5B has a history of over 60 years since its first flight in 1957 and has been widely used.
Heavy-lifting Russian drones could resupply soldiers on future battlefields
Rostec, the massive Russian defense corporation, announced at the annual MAKS-2021 arms show in late July that it wants to make a better fleet of cargo drones, including one capable of carrying up to 2,200 lbs.
The cargo drones announced by Rostec are an essential part of how militaries will fight in the future. That’s because before a military can fight, it has to bring its supplies where it needs them. For initial attacks, this is easier, as the lines of logistics are clean, and planned out. When it comes to resupply, where every pound of ammunition or rations can make the difference between survival and collapse, it is harder. Cargo drones could help with that.
Rostec is already invested in smaller cargo drones. The VRT 300, which debuted at MAKS in 2017, can carry up to 154 lbs. At the show this year, the company announced the BAS-200, which will carry 110 lbs. Loads like these can help in a pinch, especially with compact life-saving cargoes, like medical supplies. But getting drones to work as regular resupply vehicles means increasing that payload capacity.
Building on the BAS-200, Rostect plans a version that can carry up to 440 lbs next, to then be followed by the drone capable of hauling 2,200 lbs. Should Russia get there, it will have a drone capable of not just last-minute delivery of vital essentials, but of doing the long-haul work that makes resupply by air possible.
Turkey to use cargo drones for logistics, with production to begin in 2021
The Turkish military plans to use cargo drones to run its logistical operations, part of a wider effort to incorporate unmanned systems into its inventory. Turkish Aerospace Industries developed the cargo drones, which are expected to support units in combat zones in and outside Turkey, such as northern Iraq and northern Syria.
“Our Vertical Landing and Take-off Cargo UAV project will quickly and safely meet the logistical support our Turkish Armed Forces needs in mountainous terrain,” TAI said in a Nov. 7 statement. In June 2018, Turkey’s procurement authority, the Presidency of Defense Industries (or SSB for short), launched a program to procure cargo drones with vertical landing and takeoff capabilities. TAI won the contract. Turkey’s top procurement official, SSB President Ismail Demir, said that the UAVs will go into serial production in 2021.
“Thanks to the cargo UAV systems, the requirements such as weapons, ammunition, medical equipment, [and] equipment required by the security forces on the battlefield will be delivered in a very short time and safely even in difficult weather conditions,” Demir said. The drone can reportedly carry 50 kilograms and is meant to provide logistic support for troops in combat zones, especially mountainous areas.
US Navy eyes programme of record for cargo drones to resupply ships
In February 2021 , the USN conducted a proof-of-concept test with the Skyways UAV, moving light-weight logistical equipment from a maintenance centre at NAS Norfolk in Virginia to the USS Gerald R Ford, while the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was anchored in-port. In July, the service followed up with a ship-to-ship demonstration, moving cargo from the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge to fleet replenishment oiler USNS Joshua Humphrey.
Th US Navy dubbed the fixed-wing unmanned air vehicle (UAV), that has four electric-powered rotors for vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), made by start-up Skyways, as the Blue Water Maritime Logistics unmanned air system.
Typically, cargo and fuel are transferred between navy ships using wires or hoses. Helicopters, such as the Sikorsky MH-60S, are also used to hoist cargo between ships. Both resupply missions can be expensive, dangerous and time consuming. The USN has been testing the idea that smaller UAVs can handle some of the piecemeal work. In particular, the Material Sealift Command wanted to find a way to get rid of some helicopter resupply missions, says Schmidt.
“If you look at how many parts are transported, about 80% of the parts transported for logistics in the fleet are less than 10lb [4.5kg]. It’s a pretty astonishing number,” he says. The service has previously said 90% of logistical deliveries, such as electronics parts, weigh less than 22.7kg. The USN is planning more experiments with a different UAV and longer-range flights. It did not say how far the Skyways drone flew in its demonstration flights, though the company says its largest hybrid-electric aircraft has a 304nm (563km) range and an 11.3kg payload capacity.
In addition to the Skyways drone, the USN has looked at other UAVs for cargo resupply. Start-up Volansi says it demonstrated two of its VTOL drones carrying cargo between a naval ship and US Coast Guard Cutter William Trump in July. The company’s hybrid-electric aircraft has a 304nm range and a 9.1kg payload capacity. In October 2020, the USN tested delivering cargo using a large quadcopter to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M Jackson near the Hawaiian Islands. That demonstration was designed to test and evaluate the tactics, techniques and procedures for expeditionary logistics, the service said. The delivery appeared to be a short hop from a ship within visual range. The USN did not disclose the weight of the payload.
Army Testing Drones for Medical Logistics reported in Jan 2022
US Army is testing drones and autonomous technology that could deliver life-saving medical supplies to the battlefield. During test flights held at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in August, Pittsburgh-based Near Earth Autonomy integrated its autonomous flight systems onto an L3Harris-built FVR-90 hybrid vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle. The flights demonstrated how the drone could be used to send supplies back and forth across hundreds of miles, the companies said.
During the demonstrations, the FVR-90 and Near Earth’s systems underwent multiple scenarios to test how they could deliver supplies. Near Earth’s sensors were able to find unobstructed areas for the drone to land, according to a news release. When landing wasn’t possible, the supply pods were dropped from a low altitude or released higher up via parachutes, it said.
The autonomy systems built by Near Earth allow the unmanned aircraft to fly to designated coordinates and scan the environment using onboard sensors to determine the optimal supply delivery location, said Sanjiv Singh, the company’s CEO.
Along with the ability for vertical launch and recovery, the FVR-90 can carry a payload of up to 20 pounds inside delivery pods, said Peter Blocker, director of tactical UAS at L3Harris. This includes refrigerated pods of blood or other lightweight medical supplies. The platform is able to fly for up to 16 hours, according to L3Harris. Additionally, the drone can travel approximately 50 miles, or even farther with a larger antenna, Blocker said. “That’s the part that’s just amazing — being able to fly this out, say 40 or 50 miles away from wherever your supply is, and dropping it,” he said. Researchers hope the technology will also help reduce the amount of blood wasted during operations.