(NORFOLK, Va. - Feb. 12, 2007) -- U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) continues its role in the development of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) with new ways of delivering supplies to ground forces while minimizing the level of risk for the warfighter.
USJFCOM personnel with the help of U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center, the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, the U.S. Army Project Manager Force Sustainment and Support, and industry recently concluded the second of three joint military utility assessments (JMUA) at Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Ariz.
The JPADS JMUA assessed air drops of cargos increased from 6,000 to 10,000 pounds. Drops are being made not only with single loads but with simultaneous drops of two to three loads to separate drop zones.
Prior to JPADS, an air crew would deliver supplies and vehicles of various weights at low altitudes putting the aircrew in harm's way of ground fire and possibly compromising ground forces locations. If the loads were then dropped at higher altitudes to avoid both issues, it severely hampered accuracy and reduced the probability of supplies getting to intended forces.
Additional drops would be needed or more ground convoys would be deployed to deliver supplies.
Another disadvantage was the inaccuracy of higher altitude drops, which meant ground forces would have more distance to travel to recover deliveries. All of this expanded the window of opportunity for an enemy to attack aircrews or ground forces.
USJFCOM's limited acquisition authority (LAA) was used to spearhead the development of a 2000 pound variant of JPADS that was not contemplated under the original advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) for Special Operations Command which has been in use in Afghanistan for a year.
LAA allows USJFCOM to acquire communications, intelligence or any equipment that the USJFCOM commander sees as facilitating the use of joint forces in military operations and enhancing the interoperability of their equipment to fulfill urgent combatant command needs.
An economic benefit of LAA is that the products are acquired for and stay in the field with the combatant commands as service units rotate, so there is no need to equip each rotating unit with the product.
Bob Hartling, LAA branch head, explained how the success of the 2,000 pound variant of JPADS helped to accelerate the success of the JPADS ACTD.
"The success of this comprehensive package of USJFCOM and Natick Soldier Center product assessment, development, procurement and pre-deployment user training was so successful, that combatant demand for JPADS 2,000 pound in the battlefield has surged," he said.
"It has also been considered as a means for reducing the number of convoys in other regions, as the cargo pallets can now be deployed to different specific locations from a single aircraft, rather than the traditional deployment of all pallets along a single multi-mile delivery corridor," said Hartling.
The improved JPADS ACTD dramatically decreases this risk for the aircrews and aircraft. Each delivery is at a higher altitude and has the ability to drop up to 10,000 lbs.
JPADS developers say, with the increase in payload capability and accuracy, fewer air crews are needed to make drops. Also, since the number of convoys needed to move supplies on the ground decreases, so does the amount of time soldiers and Marines spend recovering the drops.
Army Lt. Col. Ralph Saunders, operational manager for the JPADS ACTD explained the USJFCOM's role in getting this system out to those in theater.
"You've got warfighters on the ground, who are engaged and are asking for it," he said. "We are the lead and the operational managers for the 10,000-pound capability. Our partners in this effort are the technical staff from the Natick Soldier Center along with the operations directorate of Air Mobility Command. This is the team that is developing the capability and helping to advance the technology prior to handing off the program management."
JPADS is composed of a mission planner (MP) system to include a global positioning satellite (GPS) retransmission kit in the aircraft to develop the loads flight path. It uses an airborne guidance unit (AGU) on the load which integrates the course and GPS information to guide the platforms of supplies to their designated target. JPADS uses steering controls and parachutes to assist in this and to decrease acceleration and slowly glide the platforms to the ground.
"The systems are all guided autonomously by GPS. There's no one on the ground with a beacon, there's no one there guiding it. Once it leaves the aircraft, it's on its own," said Saunders.
He said the aircrew uses the MP to input the grid coordinates to the particular load while the AGU takes it to its GPS point. In case there is a mission change, they can change the location of the drop at anytime, while the load is still on the aircraft. It wirelessly shoots the updated information to the AGU that is on the load. The AGU then provides feedback letting the aircrew know that the load has received new information, giving them the green light to drop.
Saunders also described how user-friendly the JPADS MP software is, something the ACTD has demonstrated to visitors of all levels.
He said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a chance to look at the software during a recent USJFCOM visit. Saunders showed him how easy it was input data to make the loads go to different locations, where you can drop them from an area versus a single point in the sky, known as the "cone of opportunity."
"The development engineers and the Air Force have really done great work," said Saunders.
That work was tested during the JMUA, a standard part of the ACTD process according to Neil Nacchio, a contractor for General Dynamics and JPADS ACTD deputy operational manager.
He explained the purpose was to make sure the technical manager and his staff understand that their role in the development of the technologies is to meet the operational requirements of the warfighter. Once that's determined, it's the role of the COCOM to work with the warfighters who execute their mission with the systems to get an answer on military utility, suitability and operability.
"The big questions that need to be answered are: Can the C-130 and C-17 air crews train to and use the mission planner system as intended, and can the Army and Marine riggers train to and build the airdrop system that is delivered to the ground without the help of the developers' Also, can the systems integrate with each other to meet the operational requirements in regards to planning, release altitudes, offset and accuracy distances," said Nacchio.
With promising initial indications, Saunders said the final assessment is scheduled for May of this year and then the necessary steps will be taken to bring the system into the field.
"We have our third JMUA at the very end of May," he said. "We'll complete the final assessment for the entire ACTD, turn it over to the office of the deputy under secretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts and simultaneously turn the actual systems over to the project manager who has the lead for precision air drop. They'll take our report and data and formally run the program from there."