By: ZACH ROSENBERG Unmanned K-max operational in Afghanistan The Lockheed Martin/Kaman unmanned K-Max has made its first operational flights in Afghanistan, resupplying US Marine Corps troops with cargo. "We have successfully flown an unmanned mission with cargo, resupplying Marines," said Lockheed. "The aircraft is operational, resupplying troops. We're flying missions with loads." Neither Lockheed nor the Navy would specify operating locations beyond the Central Command area of operations, but southern and central Afghanistan host the only large-scale Marine ground deployments in the region. The aircraft are deployed on an evaluation basis. Afghanistan has served as an advanced testing ground for a substantial number of developmental systems, including a Navy deployment of the unmanned Northrop Grumman MQ-8B for reconnaissance missions. A similar system, the Boeing A160 will deploy to the area in 2012. Unlike the Northrop and Boeing offerings, Lockheed/Kaman's aircraft will be used exclusively for resupply missions to remote forward operating bases (FOB) and combat outposts (COP). Resupply is among the most hazardous and expensive of the routine missions performed by US forces and private contractors, and demand for aerial resupply is high. "It's going to provide a tremendous utility to MC and ultimately save lives," said Lockheed. Most missions will be flown at night and over mountainous terrain. "The aircraft have infrared lighting that allows operators to see them, but do not need any unique equipment to facilitate night missions." Test missions were reportedly flown on 15 and 16 December without cargo. Both contractor and military personnel are operating the aircraft. "The deploying team consists of active duty mission commanders, air vehicle operators, and a team from Lockheed Martin. So the Marines oversee mission planning, flight conduct, air and space deconfliction. TheyÂ’re also at the FOBs as surrogate air vehicle operators." The aircraft was selected for deployment after a September quick reaction assessment.