Joint meeting helps aerial delivery collaboration take off
June 4, 2014
- Army researchers participate in a a forum about aerial delivery technologies.
NATICK, Mass. (June 4, 2014) -- Where do you go to find out user needs and what all the services are doing to advance aerial delivery? JTAG, you're it.
The Joint Technical Aerial Delivery Group, or JTAG, enables interservice agencies responsible for the aerial delivery mission to share information, discuss technologies, and formulate joint service programs.
The need for interservice cooperation has increased due to the development of multipurpose airborne systems and blended technologies. Avoiding duplication of effort is particularly important given budget constraints. The meeting is attended by the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Special Operations.
"The meeting enables information sharing between all the services to make sure we are working well together and are sharing information," said Richard Benney, director of the Aerial Delivery Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC.
The meeting takes place every couple of years at different locations, with NSRDEC hosting the most recent meeting.
"JTAG gives engineers the chance to get smarter on what the users want," Benney said. "Natick is the largest R&D (research and development) facility in the world regarding aerial delivery. We do a lot of work for the other services. This is a center of expertise. The [JTAG] meeting gives us a chance to get an overview of what other people are doing and for them to find out what we are doing. Sometimes, other services let us know what their future needs are -- not just what they are doing right now."
"JTAG is to the airdrop community what Facebook is to teenagers. It is a forum where everyone gets together and shares all the information about aerial delivery," said Gary Thibault, Cargo Aerial Delivery team leader, Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, at Natick Soldier Systems Center.
"The meeting is used, a lot of times, to bring in physical prototypes. It is great for a hands-on exchange of ideas and displays," Thibault added.
The meeting connects people with points of contact and gives them access to subject matter experts, or SMEs, from all services, which can lead to funding and testing opportunities, as well as the sharing of assets, including aircraft, riggers, and crew SMEs. The meeting can also promote partnerships that may result in faster product maturation/fielding.
For example, during a past JTAG meeting, a Special Operations Command operator said the NSRDEC-developed prototype of the Joint Precision Airdrop System Mission Planner, or JPADS, is "essential mission equipment" for high-altitude airborne operations. JPADS uses GPS, steerable parachutes, and an onboard computer to direct loads to a designated location. The JPADS Mission Planner hardware and software give the aircrew the capability to plan the mission, make changes in flight, if necessary, and direct the aircraft to the drop location.
Soon after the meeting, the Air Force started serious planning and agreed to participate and contribute dollars and people to support JPADS Advanced Technology Concept Demonstration.
"I believe that the [U.S. Air Force] interest in maturing and developing a program of record for the JPADS Mission Planner was kick-started as a result of a JTAG," Benney said.
"In September 2009, the Army faced the unanticipated requirement to issue a bailout parachute to jumpmasters, by September 2013," said Takis Blanas, Personnel Airdrop team leader, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, or PM-SCIE.
PM-SCIE was able to leverage the Navy's existing Thin-Pack Parachute, which has a longer shelf life and takes up less space than its predecessor, to create the Advanced Emergency Bailout Parachute, or AEBP.
"The JTAG provided a forum over the years that made all the services aware of this Thin-Pack program. So everybody was ready to just jump on it and leverage it because it was well known to everyone," Thibault said.
"Because of the JTAG, the Army was able to adopt the Navy Thin Pack as the Army AEBP and field it to all units by the deadline of September 2013, allowing airborne operations to continue uninterrupted," Blanas said.
"The meeting can help ensure that early on, for early [science and technology], you can help formulate requirements based on what they need, and what is the state of the possible, what is actually achievable -- based on physics, often -- and help us to better understand from the user community what they want to be able to do and translate that into engineering specifications or engineering requirements," Benney said.
"The warfighter has become a significant presence at the meeting," Thibault said. "You've got to listen to them, regardless of their rank, because they understand the equipment. It's important to have the technical perspective, but you need that user perspective to understand if what you are doing technically meets their requirements."
"Technically, we might think it is the best thing since sliced bread. But you give it to a Soldier, they might be thinking not only is this bread horrible, I won't even eat it. You got to listen to these folks, and you have to make the right bread," Thibault said.
Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.