Precision loading could play key role in efficiency for redeploying forces from Afghanistan

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  • By Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
Air Mobility Command aerial ports around the world have adopted more efficient cargo loading processes in recent years. Those same processes, applied correctly, could also facilitate more efficient retrograde airlift out of Afghanistan.

Originally started in July 2010 as the Next Generation Cargo Capability initiative, the project morphed into the command's precision loading, or PL, policy as it matured. The current program is a result of the teamwork from a myriad of aerial port people throughout Air Mobility Command, said Master Sgt. Mitch Pykosz, precision loading project manager for AMC's Directorate of Logistics, Air Transportation Cargo Policy team.

According to an AMC talking paper on the initiative, the precision loading program "standardizes air cargo build up from depot suppliers and AMC aerial ports to maximize volume and weight." Pykosz said the programs were initially focused on balancing cargo velocity and aircraft utilization from Continental U.S. aerial ports to the warfighters in deployed areas.

"These programs linked key distribution processes, established aircraft and pallet build standards, implemented material flow options, and were tracked with control metrics with great success," Pykosz said.

In March, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan, stated in a Department of Defense report "the starting point of analysis" for the U.S.-coalition fighting force in Afghanistan in 2013 will be the withdrawal of 23,000 surge troops after the 2012 fighting season.

Pykosz said there are already some procedures in place to increase cargo loading efficiency. For example, within the CENTCOM theater there are processes in-place to monitor aircraft utilization and modify schedules based on cargo utilization audits. Airlift planners at the Combined Air Operations Center also aggregate joint movement and intra-theater airlift movement requests to the maximum extent in order to efficiently utilize aircraft.

Pykosz added that the main challenge in applying the precision loading techniques used from CONUS aerial ports to the Afghanistan effort lies in how the transportation enterprise is structured.

In the CONUS, there are key nodes through which all cargo is funnel, which Pykosz describes as "gatekeepers." These gatekeepers are Defense Logistics Agency cargo and service depot consolidation points and AMC Aerial Ports. Those gatekeepers serve as a controlled input of cargo into the Defense Transportation System, based on scheduled airlift missions with predictable capability. This allows more organized and predictive planning based on aircraft type and destination on missions departing CONUS along specified routes.

For Afghanistan, the scope and focus for air cargo transportation is a little more dynamic. "Some missions and cargo are expedited at the expense of utilization -- depending on warfighter needs," Pykosz said.

For strategic redeployment missions returning to CONUS the key element needed to realize the benefits of PL from OEF are robust cargo hub operations to clean, consolidate, and build cargo on pallets and collaborative metrics to maximize the use of every CONUS bound flight. Ultimately, the efficient return of our assets will take a joint effort, and AMC is "closely engaged" with USTRANSCOM and USCENTCOM planners to ensure both the hubs metrics to make this effort as efficient as possible

"Effectively aligning warfighter requirements with the right amount of airlift, precise pallet builds, smart aircraft route plans, and fuel-efficient aircraft will enable our aerial porters will be paramount to successfully redeploy forces," Pykosz said.

(Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol, AMC Public Affairs; AMC's Directorate of Logistics, Air Transportation Cargo Policy Team and USTRANSCOM contributed to this article.)