JPADS continues 'revolution in airdrop technology'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • Air Mobility Warfare Center Public Affairs
Since October 2005, the Air Mobility Warfare Center here has partnered in an effort to revolutionize the way the Air Force does its airlift airdrops in the expeditionary environment and around the globe with the Joint Precision Air Drop System, or JPADS, initiative.

"When it was said to make this concept of JPADS a reality and we became Air Mobility Command's lead on this project, we started work right away," said Maj. Gen. David S. Gray, AMWC commander. "General (Duncan J.) McNabb (the AMC commander), made this a command priority and he definitely made it my No. 1 priority. I'm proud of how far we've come and how fast we got there."

In November 2005, AMC opened a JPADS "Tiger Team" that included representation from dozens of agencies at command headquarters, especially the Combat Operations Division and Plans and Programs, as well as people from the Air Mobility Battlelab and the Air Force Mobility Weapons School. The team was chaired by Col. Charles Stiles, the AMWC vice commander.

Tthe team's work paid off when the first combat airdrop using JPADS took place over Afghanistan Aug. 31.

"That effort put us a day ahead of the goal for combat operability by Sept. 1," said Maj. Dan DeVoe, AMWC project officer for JPADS who deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 as part of the mobile training team establishing system operations in theater.

The system is a high-altitude, all-weather capable, global positioning system-guided, precision airdrop system that provides increased control upon release from the aircraft, said Major DeVoe.

"When you're able to complete airdrops at higher altitudes for example, it keeps the aircraft and aircrews safer and out of range of the enemy," Major DeVoe said.
"Additionally, with the ability to precisely drop bundles to multiple, small drop zones, JPADS brings an entirely new capability to the warfighter while saving lives and resources in the process."

Traditional airdrops by Air Force airlifters, such as the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, are at altitudes of anywhere between 400 and 1,000 feet. With JPADS, those same airlift aircraft have the potential to guide air drop bundles from as high as 25,000 feet.

JPADS includes a mission planner to plan the optimal release points using special software residing on a laptop computer. The computer is loaded with a high-resolution grid of forecasted winds. The mission planner also receives updated near real-time wind speeds while in the air using hand-launched dropsondes (hand-sized, parachute-equipped wind indicators).

There are also multiple types of JPADS parachute systems that either have one or two types of parachutes -- steering and traditional, that is an airborne guidance unit equipped with a GPS receiver that has steering lines attached to the steering parachute and a GPS retransmit kit mounted inside the bundle to ensure uninterrupted signal reception.

"When dropped, GPS receivers use the steering mechanisms to basically fly the bundles to their predetermined drop zones," Major DeVoe said. "In combat zones right now, JPADS-equipped bundles are being delivered in the 2,000-pound category carrying everything from ammunition to food for troops in remote, hard-to-reach places."

JPADS mission planners have also found a role in improving traditional airdrops as part of the Improved Container Delivery System, or ICDS.

"Using their JPADS computer equipment, mission planners are now flying along traditional airdrop missions providing better aerial release points for those bundles as they are dropped from the plane," Major DeVoe said. "They've been able to increase air drop accuracy and altitude for traditional CDS bundles. It's getting better every day with this technology."

As of December 2006, 120 ICDS airdrops and nine JPADS airdrops were completed delivering more than 1,000 bundles to troops on the ground.

Major DeVoe said combat operations using JPADS will continue to grow.

"This has been successful in Afghanistan and soon we hope it will be further utilized in the Iraq theater of operations," Major DeVoe said.

Precision airdrops could eventually lessen the amounts of convoys military forces undertake in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the major said.

"Fewer convoys means less exposure to improvised explosive devices and other hazards troops face on the roads," Major DeVoe said. "That translates to saving lives."

JPADS has been tested and deployed successfully in the 2,000-pound range, Major DeVoe said. However, further testing to airdrop bundles eventually weighing up to 60,000 pounds is expected.

"This technology and its applications are only at the beginning," Major Devoe said. "The sky is the limit on where this can go for improving operations on the battlefield."

The overall Department of Defense JPADS initiative is led by the Army, but is a joint effort involving the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The AMWC's involvement has been a significant part of the Air Force's comprehensive effort and AMC's support for the joint development of JPADS will only continue to grow.

"This is a revolution in the way air mobility supports the warfighter," General Gray said. "We want to save lives and win the war. This will help us get there."

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