News: Afghanistan airdrop levels reach new frontier in 2010
Story by Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. - Mobility airmen supporting deployed airdrop operations in Afghanistan reached an unprecedented level in 2010 with a record 60.4 million pounds of cargo airdropped throughout austere locations in the country.
To put it another way, imagine watching 8,162 Chevy Suburbans with parachutes floating down from the sky. In all, the 60.4 million pounds is nearly twice the previous record year of 2009 where just over 32.2 million pounds of cargo was airdropped, Air Forces Central statistics show.
So why the increase? Quite possibly it can be attributed to the surge of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan between December 2009 and August 2010. In those nine months, AFCENT stats confirmed more than 40 million pounds of cargo were airdropped. But the reason for airdrops may be the same as they have always been -- because of Afghanistan's austere environment.
Throughout Afghanistan, the mountainous areas, remote operating locations and limited infrastructure with roads have made the need for airdrops a necessity. And that necessity has grown with more troops on the ground. According to a Jan. 12 Department of Defense news report, "numbers of U.S. troops and civilians, allied trainers and combat forces, Afghan army and police trainees all increased" in Afghanistan by more than 100,000 in 2010 compared to previous years. All those forces need constant resupplying to keep operations flowing.
Since 2006, the annual amount of airdrops has practically doubled every year. According to the AFCENT statistics released Jan. 19, the amount of airdrop poundage in Afghanistan over the past five years are 3.5 million in 2006, 8.12 million in 2007, 16.57 million in 2008, 32.26 million in 2009 and 60.4 million in 2010.
"These airdrops are critical to sustaining ground forces at austere locations where other means of re-supply aren't feasible," said Col. David Almand who served as director of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center's Air Mobility Division in 2010. "This continued sustainment of our warfighting forces is key to counter-insurgency operations, which require persistent presence and logistics."
There are also many ways the airdrops are made. In March 2010, a C-130 Hercules made the first "low-cost, low altitude" airdrop in Afghanistan. This is accomplished by dropping bundles weighing 80 to 500 pounds, with pre-packed expendable parachutes, in groups of up to four bundles per pass. The drops are termed "low-cost" to reflect the relative expense of the expendable parachutes compared to their more durable, but pricier, nylon counterparts. "Low-altitude" describes to the relative height from which bundles are released from the aircraft.
There's also the Joint Precision Airdrop System that guides airdrop bundles to their drop zones using the Global Positioning System technology, and the Improved Container Delivery System that allows for improved precision by factoring in the altitude, wind speed, wind direction, terrain and other circumstances that might affect the drop.
Also, for example, a C-17 Globemaster III can carry up to 40 CDS bundles for a combat airdrop mission. Each of those bundles are often built by U.S. Army parachute riggers who jointly work with the Air Force airlift community to get them delivered to ground troops in remote regions of Afghanistan.
Mobility aircraft that have supported the airdrop effort include C-130Hs and C-130Js as well as C-17s. These aircraft are assigned to expeditionary airlift squadrons throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to include bases in Southwest Asia as well as at Bagram Air Field and Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.
The mobility airmen assigned to support those airdrops missions have also consistently said in many reports how proud they are to be able to directly support those "boots on the ground" with the supplies they need no matter where in Afghanistan they are operating.
"It's very humbling to have such an impact on the war effort," said Staff Sgt. T.J. Grover, a C-130J loadmaster deployed with the 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron said in a 2010 news report at Kandahar. "Especially when you hear about people on the ground who have close to nothing, and we make their day if we even fly in something that's bare-minimum, but it's still a step above what they had. These guys at forward operating bases aren't getting stuff because they want it; they get it because they need it."
(Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service, Roger Drinnon, Air Mobility Command Public Affairs, Master Sgt. Joe Kapinos, 319th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs, and Senior Airman Melisa B. White, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)