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New Marine Corps Supply Drone In the Works

SeaOnyx UAS to Deliver Up to 600-Pound Payload

While the payloads of commercial delivery drones seldom exceed forty-pounds, the U.S. Marine Corps is in the market for an autonomous Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) capable of delivering five-hundred-pounds of ordnance under combat conditions over a minimum distance of 8.7-nautical-miles (ten-kilometers).

A recent Request For Information (RFI) posting by the Marine Corps’ Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons on the U.S. government website called for the new UAS delivery vehicle to weigh no more than 1,320-pounds, fit into a small ground-vehicle, and operate effectively in day and night VFR and IFR conditions. The RFI went on to specify subject UAS should take no more than thirty-minutes to set up and launch, and be operational and ready for testing as early as 2024.

The Marine Corps' challenge was taken up by Leidos, an American defense, aviation, information technology, and biomedical research company headquartered in Reston, Virginia. Known formerly as Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Leidos provides scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services. In 2016, Leidos merged with Information Systems & Global Solutions, Lockheed-Martin’s IT sector, thereby creating the defense industry’s largest IT services provider. The Leidos-Lockheed Martin merger is among the largest transactions thus far undertaken in the consolidation of a defense sector.

Per its contract with the Marine Corps, Leidos is to develop a prototype drone capable of delivering a 300 to 600-pound payload. The inchoate UAS, ascribed the cryptic nom de guerre SeaOnyx by parties unknown but likely not Marines, is to be produced within 18-months and perform a “logistics distribution mission.”

The SeaOnyx contract is valued at slightly more than $14-million—so states the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons program. Additionally, Phenix Solutions, an Oregon-based technology concern, will partner with Leidos to bring the endeavor rapidly to fruition.

The deal is one of many current Pentagon initiatives to produce cargo drones for battlefield use.

The Marine Corps flew the first unmanned combat resupply mission using a robot helicopter in 2011. In March 2023, the service debuted a short-range, autonomous cargo drone system capable of carrying 150-pounds over a 7.9-nautical-mile distance. The contraption navigates via GPS waypoints and is expected to deploy by autumn 2023. The Marine Corps is reportedly developing a new job field specialty specific to the aforementioned drone system.

The Air Force, too, is developing autonomous cargo drones—probably to shag golf balls. Not to be outdone, the Navy is testing ship-to-ship drone delivery platforms. Even the U.S. Army tested a medical supply drone as part of 2022 research initiative seeking means by which to expediently and safely deliver blood to wounded troops in the field.



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