Airdrop technology meet today’s military logistics needs
Pennsauken, New Jersey, US - 14 February, 2011
By Aaron Mebust, JPADS Program Manager, Airborne Systems.
An army’s dependence on logistics has not diminished since Napoleon’s observation, “amateurs talk tactics, professionals discuss logistics”, almost 200 years ago. In fact, logistical support is more critical than ever.
A rapid response to supply requirements will allow modern forces to react quickly to changes of mission and retain tactical and operational advantages. Equipped with more capable communications, more firepower, and improved protection, modern warfighters are able to operate in smaller organizations over larger areas. Called decentralized or distributed operations, these capabilities provide operational commanders tremendous flexibility. Just as specialized equipment has increased the criticality of a reliable supply chain distributed operations have increased the difficulty of resupplying the force.
TECHNOLOGY MEET THE CHALLENGE OF RESUPPLY FOR DISTRIBUTED OPERATIONS
Resupplying a distributed force requires a leap-ahead in technology. Autonomous guided precision aerial delivery is the most advanced airdrop technology available today for the modern warfighter. The precision aerial delivery concept was developed by the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). Airborne Systems, already a pioneer in this technology since the 1980’s was selected to develop the concept for operational use as part of the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) program together with the US Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Massachusetts and continues today to dominate the field in precision aerial delivery technology.
The autonomous guided precision aerial delivery concept comprises delivering cargo payloads using ram air canopies, also known as gliding parachutes, with the intent of reaching a pre-defined landing point. After being deployed from an aircraft at high altitude - all parachutes are capable of deployment at 25,000ft AGL - the system will fly itself to a designated point on the ground using a GPS receiver and an advanced Guidance Navigation and Control (G&C) algorithm. No user input is required to deliver the payload to the intended resupply location.
Having a glide ratio of 3.3:1 up to 5.5:1, these systems have a range greater than 20km (in zero wind conditions). This horizontal and vertical separation allows accurate resupply of units without incurring risk to aircrew or compromising the security of the ground element.
The significant gliding distance of these systems also provides potential for optimizing aircraft utilization. Current aerial delivery procedures using round parachutes require the aircrew to fly directly over the intended drop zone to confirm the wind patterns and calculate the release point from which to drop the payload. This procedure also requires aircrew to fly at low altitude to be accurate, within the range of small-arms fire.
After the release point calculation has been performed, the aircrew must circle back to the drop zone and make a low level pass to drop the payload. Besides exposing the aircrew and aircraft to the risks of ground fire, this procedure requires the aircraft to overfly each drop zone twice. If a number of small units are participating in a distributed operation, the total time required to resupply the entire force could be excessive.
Unlike conventional round parachutes, autonomous guided systems can be deployed along a single flight path to resupply separate units. With a 20 kilometer offset, a single pass can resupply units separated by 40 kilometers. In practical terms, while making a single pass over an operational area, a single C-130 flying in a straight line can deliver 16 one ton supply bundles to 16 separate locations up to 20 kilometers to the left and 20 kilometers to the right of the flight path. The same mission conducted with conventional airdrop would require the aircrew to plan 32 approaches to 16 separate locations.
Autonomous guided precision aerial delivery, therefore, provides an efficient method of delivering supplies, increases the safety of the aircrew, provides additional security to the receiving unit, and reduces the number of aircraft hours for resupply missions. In addition, the ability to safely deliver supplies to small units located in remote or hard to reach locations reduces the requirement for ground convoys performing hazardous resupply missions.
A FAMILY OF GUIDED PRECISION AERIAL DELIVERY SYSTEMS
Airborne Systems has developed a family of autonomous guided systems that uses an identical architecture and therefore the same flight algorithm and user interface. The commonality of components reduces material cost. Because the programming procedures for all systems are identical and packing procedures are very similar, user training requirements are also greatly reduced.
Airborne Systems family of systems ranges in payload capacity from 200lb (90kg) to 42,000lb (19,000 kg) and provides a dramatic improvement in the ability to support a decentralized force deployed in a fast-paced operational environment.
The US Department of Defense has selected the Airborne Systems FireFly™ for its Joint Precision Airdrop Systems (JPADS) 2,000lb program. The JPADS 2K Program is managed by Product Manager – Force Sustainment Systems (PM-FSS), located at Natick. The JPADS 2K has been type classified and is currently in operational use. To date, Airborne Systems has sold more than 1,400 JPADS 2K / FireFly™ systems to US and international users. In addition to the JPADS 2K program, PM-FSS also manages the JPADS 10K program which uses the Airborne Systems DragonFly™ system. Fielding of the JPADS 10K is scheduled for 2012.
The MicroFly™ has also been adopted by several US DoD organizations and international users and is Airborne Systems’ proposed solution to the US Marine Corps Joint Precision Air Drop System Ultra Light Weight (JPADS-ULW) program. It requires no specialized training and can be used with most existing military personnel parachute canopies. When using Airborne Systems high performance ram air parachute systems, for example the Raider Intruder, the MicroFly™ is capable of carrying payloads up to 700lb and offers maximum offset. Its use of identical canopies allow sticks of jumpers to follow GPS-guidable or remote-controlled payloads into theater without worrying about the cargo descending quicker than the jumpers or into areas away from the intended drop zone.
Airborne Systems has also applied its technology to heavier cargo loads. As part of a Science and Technology Objective for the US Army Soldier System Center at Natick, the MegaFly™ (30,000lb – 13,500 kg) and the GigaFly™ (42,000lb - 19,000 kg) have been dropped successfully at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona to determine the capability of truly large scale ram air precision cargo delivery.
In addition to its developmental effort with autonomous guided precision aerial delivery, Airborne Systems latest engineering challenge has been to develop new techniques to construct parachutes from very lightweight fabrics. The first drop test of a large canopy made from lightweight fabric using Dyneema™ materials was completed in July 2010. This successful test opens up the market for new opportunities. The weight of a 62.2 ft dia. canopy assembly was reduced from approximately 42 lb to about 32 lb – a saving of 23% in canopy assembly weight. This significant weight reduction would lead to a reduced pack volume or easier packing for existing canopies or the ability to provide larger parachutes within an existing airframe compartment.
A reliable, flexible, and responsive supply chain is essential to ensuring success of any mission, particularly in adapting to the changing requirements of insurgencies and smaller conflicts spread over wide areas rather than large-scale territory battles. Being able to rapidly respond to supply requirements will provide modern forces the ability to react quickly to changes of mission in order to retain tactical and operational advantages.
- END -Email Us