PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Soldiers who are pinned down in firefights with the enemy often rely on life-saving airdrops to resupply their ammunition, food, water and medical supplies.
A new system sponsored by Product Director Joint Service and developed by Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) and Natick Soldier Research Development Engineering Center (NSRDEC) engineers, called the Enhanced Speed Bag, standardizes the airdrop resupply method with greatly reduced damage to supplies, thus saving money and supplying Soldiers more efficiently.
"The current solution is to fill body bags or duffle bags with resupply items, fly it in low with a helicopter--low as they can--and kick it out the door," explained Bob Forrester, an ARDEC engineer, at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.
"Unfortunately, using this method, many items on the bottom of the bags are destroyed. There is upwards of 40 percent or 50 percent of the resupplies that are not useable. So while the Soldiers get some of the vital stuff they needed -- food, water, ammo -- a lot of the stuff is damaged."
The Enhanced Speed Bag system was designed to standardize the resupply procedure. The system consists of a hands free linear brake, rope and padded bag. When the bag is deployed the brake applies friction to the rope orienting the bag with the padded base down.
"The bag lands padded side down because the rope slows it down just enough to keep it oriented. That way you only have to pad one side of the bag, you don't have to encase it in massive padding," Forrester said.
Testing has shown that when using the Enhanced Speed Bag system, over 90 percent of all items dropped land undamaged, according to Alex Maurer, a Picatinny contractor with Alion Science and Technology.
The Enhanced Speed Bag can be used to resupply service members with ammunition, water, meals ready to eat, medical supplies and other needed items.
Six Enhanced Speed Bags can be dropped from helicopters at one time. Each Enhanced Speed Bag can hold up to 200 pounds of supplies.
The idea for the Enhanced Speed Bag emerged from feedback from ARDEC's Ammunition Warrant Officer upon his return from several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. After learning that troops were receiving damaged good from airdrops, ARDEC teamed with NSRDEC at Natick, Mass., to concept and design the Enhanced Speed Bag.
Engineers have been working with the Army Mountaineering Warfare School, as well as the Georgia National Guard in U.S. Africa Command to develop and test the system.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM
"Almost every unit has used their own version of emergency resupply bags," Forrester said. "They're all unique, they're all done ad hoc, it's not a documented procedure."
"There's no certain bag they always order. They'll use medical bags, storage bags, duffle bags, body bags -- the things they have laying around the base."
This makes it difficult to arrive at a base line to determine cost. However, Maurer estimates that it could save $1,500 in ammunition per drop.
LIGHTENING SOLDIER LOAD
As recently evaluated in Spiral I of the Maneuver Center of Excellence's (MCOE) Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment, the Enhanced Speed Bag could be used to lighten Soldiers loads through routine resupply during missions.
"If we have a standardized way to deliver supplies that aren't damaged, then you can send troops on missions with less to carry. So instead of an emergency resupply this would be a purposeful resupply -- daily drops of food, daily drops of water."
Based on the encouraging Munition Center of Excellence evaluation, efforts are underway to soon make the Speed Bag available to units.
The Enhanced Speed Bag also opens the door to using an unmanned helicopter-type system to resupply troops in emergency situations.
"You don't have to land, you don't have to get close to the ground, you can be 100 ft up. It can be automatically released and descends on its own," said Maurer. "No one's in harm's way, it can fly higher off the ground, it's a smaller aircraft so it's harder to hit. It's an enabler that can make autonomous resupply possible."