'Smart' Airdrops May Save Lives Of U.S. Troops

January 8th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: 'Smart' Airdrops May Save Lives Of U.S. Troops

USA Today
January 8, 2007
Pg. 5

GPS-guided deliveries mean fewer convoys in danger areas
By Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today
FORT DIX, N.J. The Air Force and Army have begun to use technology that guides so-called smart bombs to target parachute-dropped cargo to resupply troops in remote, hazardous locations.
The smart chutes, still in the development stage, have been rushed into use in Afghanistan, where fighting between U.S. and allied forces and the Taliban insurgents has surged in the past several months.
U.S. forces are dropping more and more supplies to troops in Afghanistan, according to statistics kept by U.S. Central Command, which coordinates military activities there. In December, U.S. air units dropped 357,000 pounds of supplies, compared with 87,600 pounds in December 2005.
"We've revolutionized the way we supply the war fighter," says Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gray, commander of the Air Mobility Warfare Center at Fort Dix. "This is a hellaciously great capability."
The larger amounts of supplies reflect extensive fighting between coalition forces and the Taliban. This fall, NATO launched a 10-day offensive in Kandahar province, the largest ground operation the alliance has ever undertaken. Hundreds of Taliban fighters were killed and more than 100 taken prisoner in the campaign.
The precision airdrop system is seen as a way of minimizing danger to convoys, which are frequent targets of roadside bombs. It can also quickly resupply troops on the far-flung battlefields.
"There's no way you're going to take huge convoys off roads," Air Force Maj. Dan DeVoe says.
"But for small pockets in the outer reaches it may be helpful. We may no longer need four or five armed vehicles supporting two or three trucks," DeVoe says.
The parachutes so far have dropped a fraction of the total amount of supplies needed, but they've been used in critical spots. In August, the Air Force resupplied ammunition to troops engaged in combat with Taliban fighters. The U.S. troops were in a hard-to-reach spot in a mountainous region, and U.S. jets were pounding insurgents at the time of the airdrop, according to the Air Force.
John Pike, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, a military think tank, says precision airdrop capability will be a boon to the military but has been slow in arriving.
"It's a great thing, but I'm puzzled as to why the precision revolution is moving as slowly in this arena as it is," Pike says.
The satellite-guided parachute is called the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS). The Army and Air Force have been developing it since 1993. The parachute system allows cargo to be dropped from high altitudes beyond the range of enemy fire. Traditional drops require pilots to fly at 1,000 feet or lower to be accurate, within the range of small-arms fire. The precision system allows drops from as high as 25,000 feet.
Sensors, called dropsondes, are released from the cargo plane prior to the airdrop. These instruments measure wind speed and direction, which are used to calculate the point at which to drop the cargo so that it hits its target.
Once dropped from the aircraft, the JPADS cargo and its parachute rely on Global Positioning System receivers for guidance. A small motor reacts to GPS orders and reels in or extends lines attached to the parachute. That changes the shape of the parachute and steers it to troops on the ground. The guidance systems, which are reusable, cost between $25,000 and $50,000 for 2,000-pound loads and $60,000 to $90,000 each for 10,000-pound loads.
When fully developed, the parachute system will be able to handle 60,000-pound loads enough to drop the Army's Stryker combat vehicle with precision, according to the Air Force. "As a pilot, I used to need to see a visual marker and hit that target or close to it," says Gray, who has more than 3,500 flying hours in cargo planes. "Now, with GPS, I don't have to see it. I can drop it through clouds, at night, in bad weather."
In a traditional airdrop, the lead bundle of equipment could be close to its target, but the trailing bundles could be stretched out over a mile.
"That's a lot of area to have to secure," says Richard Benney, an Army aerospace engineer and technical manager for the system.
Precision airdrops using JPADS in Afghanistan have been within 280 yards of their target, DeVoe says.
Resupplying troops by air in remote locations also takes vehicles off dangerous roads, bypassing the threat of accidents and the homemade bombs known to the military as improvised explosive devices, the top threat to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"If the Taliban is targeting specific routes because they know that every other day we're sending a convoy up that road, we can use an airdrop," Gray says.
"Saving American blood is a good thing, and this will definitely do it," Gray says.

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