Air Force crews deliver critical cargo to outposts

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker
  • U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs
A cold, isolated outpost high in the mountains of Afghanistan was running low on fuel, which provides all the power and heating for forces there. Within six hours, the fuel tank would be empty, with no way to keep warm as temperatures drop below freezing.

Within five hours of receiving notification of the fuel shortage, a U.S. Air Force C-130H Hercules delivered over 800 gallons of critical life-sustaining fuel with pinpoint accuracy, enabling the outpost to power its operations throughout the evening until a follow-up sustainment drop brought the outpost into the "green" status for supplies.

Without the flexibility of airdrop operations, the outpost would have run out of heating fuel within hours, forcing the unit to abandon the outpost and convoy to an alternate location miles away, putting them in danger of being ambushed by insurgents or hit with roadside bombs.

U.S. Air Forces Central's Air Mobility Division directs the employment of thee distinctly capable aerial resupply platforms. The aircraft are the C-17 Globemaster III and C-130H and J Hercules.

"These multifaceted platforms allow the Air Force to deliver combat capability to the warfighter in some very unique ways," said Col. James Ray, AFCENT Air Mobility Division Chief and C-17 pilot.

A single C-17 can carry up to 18 pallets of critical wartime material, land, off-load and within hours be carrying more than 150 passengers or en-route to an austere drop zone with the ability to drop up to 40 Container Delivery System (CDS) bundles. A C-130H can carry six pallets and drop up to 16 bundles of cargo, while the newer C-130J can carry eight pallets and drop up to 24 bundles of cargo.

"These bundles typically impact within 150 yards of the desired point of impact," Ray said. "The 40 bundles often deliver more than 60,000 pounds of necessary sustainment supplies and are vital in sustaining the remote locations within Afghanistan."

"The AMD mission is a vital hub to the spokes of wartime operations," said Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, AFCENT Combined Forces Air Component Commander. "With a wide spectrum of capabilities at its disposal, AMD has a hand in nearly every aspect of the warfighting effort. Whether it's refueling joint and coalition aircraft, providing relief supplies to partner nations, or managing travel for thousands of joint and coalition forces, AFCENT's AMD is at the heart of every phase of planning, helping ensure mission success."

Senior Airman Jonathan Fabis, a native of Washington D.C. and loadmaster with the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, a C-17 Globemaster III flying squadron here, says it's Airmen who keep this highly functional squadron and aerial delivery mission operating.

"My favorite part of our mission here is the combat airdrops," he said. "Knowing that I am directly affecting the warfighter on the ground is worth all the hard work."

According to aerial delivery professionals, more than 10 years of wartime experience has honed AMD operations to a fine edge. In 2011, the AFCENT AMD oversaw the aerial delivery of nearly 55,000 bundles, comprising more than 80 million pounds of critical supplies. Given an average of 4,000 to 5,000 bundles delivered per month, conventional airdrop methods comprised over 98 percent of these resupply missions while the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) was employed in unique circumstances when conditions warranted.

A recent JPADS airdrop took place in the U.S. Army's Regional Command-East, Afghanistan. The AMD received a request from a Task Force that required precision resupply to an area surrounded by collateral concerns and located in a valley with 5,000-foot mountain peaks towering above the intended drop zone.

To further complicate this drop, national boundaries reduced the available run-in directions, making an airdrop using conventional tactics impossible. The unit requested a JPADS drop and the AMD was able to deliver on a limited timeline. Twenty-two hundred gallons of critical fuel were delivered with an average drop accuracy of 78 yards.

"Our dedicated Airmen aggressively work through the daily challenges and seek innovative solutions, while benefiting from past experiences to make the division even better than before," said Ray.

Ray says AMD airdrop operations enables an entire engagement strategy that wouldn't be normally be possible. In addition to reducing the number of convoys exposed to the improvised explosive device threat, often roads don't even exist to many of these forward operating bases. More than 40 FOBs in Afghanistan were resupplied by airdrop alone in 2011.

Army counterparts agree the aerial deliveries provided by the Air Force are reliable, swift and life-saving.

"In some cases, airdrop is the only way troops are able to be resupplied," said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2, Michelle Charge, 45th Sustainment Brigade air drop systems technician. "It's a valuable supplement to trucking routes that are often limited by the absence of a road, difficult terrain, inclement weather, or the IED threat.

"Food, water, ammunition, and fuel are the primary supplies we have received through airdrop," she said. "The Air Force is a very reliable source of air resupply when we need it. When we ask for something, they deliver."

USAFCENT's AMD is the chief planning, coordinating and executing arm for mobility operations within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Nested within AFCENT's Combined Air and Space Operations Center, the division orchestrates the complex architecture of airlift, air refueling, aeromedical, passenger movement and aerial port operations for joint and coalition forces 24 hours a day, seven days a week.