Embracing Modernization: Progress and Innovation in Aerial Delivery

By Frank BadaluccoApril 23, 2024

Sgt. 1st Class Freddie Feliciano, a member of the Aerial Delivery Readiness and Safety Team, explains the process of parachute packing to team members from Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Human-Computer Interaction program as part of a...
Sgt. 1st Class Freddie Feliciano, a member of the Aerial Delivery Readiness and Safety Team, explains the process of parachute packing to team members from Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Human-Computer Interaction program as part of a parachute packing demonstration conducted by Staff Sgt. Diana Campos, an instructor assigned to the Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department, Fort Gegg-Adams, Virginia, Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jesse Norris) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Over the past 15 years, significant advancements in aerial delivery capabilities have allowed for enhanced interoperability and readiness/modernization efforts. Before 2005, equipment, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) remained unchanged for over 50 years. The TTPs mentioned in reference texts were very useful in enabling the aerial delivery field to provide a strong foundation for the initial airdrop sustainment missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. During the time of conflict, aerial delivery was forced to adapt and modernize. Currently, the Army is still modernizing and striving to be adaptable for large-scale operations, humanitarian support, and NATO interoperability support.

Aerial delivery is essential in shaping battlefields and giving commanders access to resources that would otherwise be denied when operating in a land-locked country like Ukraine. This led to a revision of Army Techniques Publication 4-48, Aerial Delivery, incorporating force design updates to unit structures. As individual combat loads and equipment became heavier and more sensitive, modernization became necessary for paratroopers jumping with more weight and at a slower rate of descent to avoid injuries and ensure the paratroopers’ safety. Advancements on the battlefield, such as adversaries’ increasing surface-to-air capabilities, have also impacted aerial delivery operations, pushing the Air Force to request higher drop altitudes and autonomous airdrop capabilities to avoid damage. With guidance from the Army Airborne Board and commanders at all levels, the aerial delivery community has adapted to new aerial delivery requirements and lessons learned for an ever-evolving battlefield.

The aerial delivery community must continue to support Soldiers with modern technology changes and work modernization efforts to increase commanders’ operational reach and maneuverability. For any systems an airborne unit utilizes, the Army requires rigorous developmental and operational testing and certification for airdrop and sling load. Training and standards must also be developed and implemented for parachute riggers, jumpmasters, Air Force aircrews, and joint airdrop inspectors. The Army is advancing the capabilities for aerial delivery by implementing modernization initiatives such as utilizing mobile asset tracker-automated parachute management (MAT-APM) for tracking and maintenance, establishing the Aerial Delivery Readiness and Safety Team (ADRST) to evaluate and support all aerial delivery units, and integrating human and computer functions using robotic applications.

The MAT-APM application is a program designed by the aerial delivery community to establish a database to keep track of the history, maintenance actions, and catalog information of aerial delivery equipment (ADE). It provides a system for aerial delivery units to monitor personnel certifications, qualifications, and the operational status of ADE. The reason why the aerial delivery community took this action is that Global Combat Support System-Army was unable to perform these tasks, and a different process was needed.

By leveraging MAT-APM’s many capabilities, data collection, analysis, and audits will increase throughput and reduce the need for human resources. For example, MAT-APM is a great resource and improvement on how the aerial delivery community collects data on malfunctions and mishaps of ADE. The reports contain multiple data points, capturing all relevant information on the user, maintainer, terrain, and weather conditions. The aerial delivery field is working to improve the process by introducing digital submission through MAT-APM instead of fax, email, or SharePoint. This will enhance record-keeping and instant information gathering for leaders. The current process is labor-intensive and requires years of experience to correctly review and process submissions, which takes time away from leaders and staff. Retrieving data for combat developers can be challenging, and the system is vulnerable to data loss and is restricted by local software policies.

To assist aerial delivery units with modernization and ensure safety and readiness, G-4 has created a new team called the ADRST. This team’s mission is to assess and assist all aerial delivery units every three to four years. They assess adherence to policy and doctrine across all components of aerial delivery units. To provide standardized and value-added assessments, the team has partnered with other units such as the National Guard Airborne and Aerial Delivery, Safety, Training, Readiness, Assistance Program; the 1st Special Forces Command senior airdrop advisor; and the Army Reserve airdrop office. The team’s goals are to provide a status of the aerial delivery capability Army-wide and to offer assistance and get-well plans if needed. They share lessons learned across the aerial delivery community and report all findings to Army G-4. The team is developing an award program for annual aerial delivery unit readiness, safety, and unit of excellence and is credentialing its members through organizations such as Army Sustainment University’s Data Analysis and Visualization course, Army Combat Readiness Center’s Army Mishap Investigation Course, and the Army Inspector General School’s basic course. The team also assumes the duties and responsibilities for the triannual malfunctions safety and analysis review board to identify units with malfunctions or mishaps and address them during assessment and assistance visits. Additionally, they are working on expanding MAT-APM’s capabilities to allow units to submit malfunction reports and utilization summaries electronically.

Another modernization effort the aerial delivery community is undertaking is the integration of human and computer functions through robotic applications. This effort is to implement artificial intelligence (AI) applications to augment aerial delivery operations in personnel parachute packing, cargo rigging, and maintenance activities. Due to theater aerial delivery companies and corps aerial delivery companies being at risk of mission degradation for intratheater-level support activities, a need for a viable solution, which can be sustained both in garrison and combat, is immediate. The types of operations that face below-standard effectiveness are parachute packing facility operations, parachute management, rigging facility operations, heavy drop operations, and ADE repair facility operations, which constitute problems both in garrison and combat environments because personnel manning strengths cannot support full-scale aerial delivery requirements. In today’s multidomain operations (MDO), aerial delivery must remain speedy in providing mission-critical cargo and key personnel anywhere in a dispersed era of operation. This strategic aim cannot be fulfilled if the manning portion is not maintained to wartime readiness rates above 90% or if the effectiveness of the personnel rigging is not trained appropriately with the right amount of experience.

As a result, the Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department at Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia, is teaming up with the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command in Natick, Massachusetts, to design an AI robot that can interact with humans and perform rigging duties. This collaborative effort includes private organizations and colleges such as Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, to help create a technological application to meet aerial delivery’s unique challenges and perform the associated high-risk operations. These cutting-edge efforts shape the future augmentation of the human force to help commanders improve combat readiness levels and outputs both in the garrison and on the future battlefield. The AI robotic system will also be able to connect to automated systems such as MAT-APM to upload real-time data and have total asset visibility throughout the aerial delivery enterprise. This monumental change to how aerial delivery is implemented will revolutionize aerial delivery operations to improve speed, volume, and asset visibility from the tactical to the industrial enterprise. The future seems so far away, but it is within reach due to push from the leaders of both the airborne and aerial delivery communities. An AI robot that can conduct aerial delivery rigging would help augment the human force and improve both quality and quantity to increase operations and safety measures of effectiveness and to give commanders the decisive edge needed to dominate the future MDO environment.

Aerial delivery is pivotal in shaping the battlefield and helping the Army achieve victory. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize safety and readiness when modernizing aerial delivery capabilities. This can be achieved by analyzing data and auditing the aerial delivery community. The collected data is valuable for developers improving aerial delivery capabilities. It provides them with relevant and up-to-date data points, which can speed up the design and testing process in the developmental and operational phases. AI robots can be used in the future to address human resource constraints and modernization efforts. The development and implementation timeline for ADE is quite lengthy, and the development of training programs further compounds it. However, the MAT-APM, ADRST, and integration of human and computer functions through robotic applications provide commanders and senior leaders with crucial information and resources to make informed decisions at the right time.


Frank Badalucco is presently the Deputy Director of the Aerial Delivery Readiness and Safety Team at the Aerial Delivery and Field Services Department (ADFSD), Fort Gregg-Adams, Virginia. Previously, he was a senior airdrop advisor and an aerial delivery technical writer for ADFSD. During his tenure as a technical writer, he was responsible for monitoring and conducting an initial analysis of aerial delivery malfunctions and incidents.


This article was published in the Spring 2024 issue of Army Sustainment.


Army Sustainment homepage

The Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf format

Current Army Sustainment Online Articles

Connect with Army Sustainment on LinkedIn

Connect with Army Sustainment on Facebook