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Airdrop System Protects Airmen, Soldiers

A simulated 2,000-pound "Screamer" cargo load awaits loading onto a C-130 aircraft at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., in September, 2006. Aircrews from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, Minn., flew missions at more than 17,000 feet, dropping 2,000- and 10,000-pound GPS-guided pallets during testing of the U.S. Air Force and Army Joint Precision Airdrop System. U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Bob Everdeen.
by US Air Force Capt. Bob Everdeen
Wright-Patterson AFB (AFNS) Oct 19, 2006
Many geographic regions, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Coalition Forces serve today are remote, mountainous and littered with potential enemy combatants. Getting supplies to friendly troops in these areas is challenging at best, and often requires convoy movements across vast distances-sometimes on treacherous roads laden with improvised explosive devices.

However, some of those dangers are increasingly being minimized thanks to advancements associated with the Joint Precision Airdrop System, or JPADS.

JPADS is a parachute-based system currently in the concept-development phase that features GPS-guided steering mechanisms that direct the unit's rectangular parafoil to a desired point of impact.

The system allows cargo planes to more precisely deliver loads of supplies like ammunition, fuel, food and water precisely in most weather conditions and in a cost-effective manner from altitudes outside of the range of enemy fire.

Previously, aerial delivery primarily consisted of re-supply aircraft flying into remote or dangerous locations at altitudes of just a few hundred feet above the ground.

With JPADS, cargo planes can perform airdrop missions from a standoff distance of several miles and at heights in the tens of thousands of feet.

Testing of the high-altitude precision airdrop system took place at the U.S. Army Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz., Sept. 11-15 when C-130 crews from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., and Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, Minn., flew missions at more than 17,000 feet, dropping 2,000- and 10,000-pound GPS-guided pallets.

"We're working on fielding an interim solution for the JPADS 2,000-pound system, then using what we learn here for a long-term solution (to use with larger, heavier loads)," said Army Maj. Paul Hopkins, assistant project manager for cargo aerial delivery at the U.S. Army PM-Force Sustainment Systems in Natick, Mass.

"The war on terror has given us a lot of great lessons learned and we're getting a lot of great feedback about JPADS from the field," he noted.

The jointly-developed 2,000-pound "Screamer" (so named because it falls at 100 mph) JPADS system was used in Afghanistan in August, even though it was still developmental.

"The system did exactly what it was designed for and delivered ammunition and water to ground troops here," said Maj. Neil Richardson, chief of the combat programs and policy branch at Air Mobility Command.

JPADS is actually a system of systems consisting of a decelerator system tied to a container delivery system that interfaces with all cargo aircraft. "It also includes the JPADS mission planner, an Air Force program that consists of a laptop computer with airdrop mission planning software, a GPS re-transmission kit for the interior of aircraft and a dropsonde (weather reconnaissance device) capability that provides real-time weather information just prior to an airdrop," said Sanjay Patel, a contractor from the Army's Natick Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems.

"The JPADS mission planner assimilates weather information from various sources, plans an airdrop mission, provides the information to the aircrew and communicates wirelessly with the decelerator systems to ensure accuracy," he explained.

Testing of JPADS will continue-currently, the plan is to conduct technical tests in October, with a technical evaluation in December.

Fifty "Screamer" systems will be delivered to troops overseas as early as February. This aggressive schedule is the result of a joint rapid fielding initiative requesting the systems for use in the global war on terrorism, and a joint universal operational needs statement from U.S. Central Command.

"The 516th Aeronautical Systems Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the 951st Electronics Systems Group at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., will be using feedback from in-theater operations to address issues as part of the JPADS mission planner and aircraft hardware acquisition effort," said Lt. Col. Randy Bowling, JPADS program manager at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

One of the key components of the JPADS program is accuracy.

"With (JPADS), we have a much better chance of getting to our target," said Jaclyn McHugh, a mechanical engineer at Natick. "And the program continues to improve and evolve, especially with feedback from the users."

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