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Joint team restores precision airdrop capability

  • Published
  • By Patty Welsh
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Warfighters at forward operating bases have recently begun receiving supplies via a critical variant of the Joint Precision Airdrop System again, due to the combined efforts of an Air Force, Army and contract team.

JPADS is a family of equipment consisting of parachutes, mission-planning systems, global-positioning systems, and computer hardware and software that allows aircrews to drop supplies more accurately and from further stand-off distances.

"JPADS allows aircraft to stay out of the range of many threats, improving aircrew and aircraft safety, and it also drastically reduces the need for convoys, reducing the number of troops and equipment exposed to the threat of (improvised explosive devices)," said Capt. Michael Kolbe, the JPADS mission planning program manager at the Electronic Systems Center. "It is a smart system that uses global positioning, weather modeling and advanced mathematics to calculate an appropriate drop point and enable a parachute to fly itself based on the coordinates it receives."

The guided payload 2,200 pound weight class of the JPADS has been used in theater since 2009 to deliver items such as food, water, medical supplies and ammunition to military units operating in areas where it is extremely difficult, and often dangerous, for vehicles to reach.

This is especially important as the amount of cargo being airdropped to warfighters has significantly increased.

According to U.S. Transportation Command officials, during a 12-week period earlier this year, about 500 bundles, equating to approximately 450 tons of supplies, were dropped each week in an area of responsibility.

Key to JPADS is the accuracy of the drops. In February, after two 2,200-pound JPADS-guided payloads failed to hit their intended targets in theater, the joint team decided to put a temporary halt on operations for this specific JPADS hardware. Other JPADS ballistic and guided delivery systems did not experience the same issue and have had continued success in theater.

"Warfighters often operate in austere areas, and the drop zone the cargo needs to land in may be very small - perhaps only 100 by 100 meters," Captain Kolbe said. "The 2,200 pound JPADS can deliver to those areas, while letting us keep our military personnel outside of harm's way. The team needed to get a correction out to the AOR as soon as possible."

Officials from both the Air Force and Army, as well as the original JPADS software creators worked together to find a solution.

"Every time cargo is airdropped, there are a number of parameters required to define the load attributes. Specific parachute characteristics, aircraft, payload information, and wind and weather are just a few," Captain Kolbe said. "What we discovered is when an airdrop was right on the border of a high amount of those parameters, it would affect the software, which, in turn, would affect the launch acceptability region."

Once the LAR was found to be part of the issue, the team worked toward finding a quick interim resolution.

The team upgraded the current software so when the JPADS mission planner establishes the LAR, it is augmented with an airborne systems LAR calculator based on simulation data from actual flights. The user utilizes this information to accurately plan the mission.

With this change, the team conducted a successful airdrop with two 2,200 pound weight class payloads in September, and drops are now ongoing in the AOR.

The JPADS team is currently working to incorporate a long-term fix with fielding anticipated by February 2011.