News: Airdrops could play key role in eventual Afghanistan transition
Story by Master Sgt. Scott Sturkol
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- During 2011, mobility airmen airdropped more than 80 million pounds of cargo for troops deployed throughout austere locations in Afghanistan. In the future, the Air Force expects airdrops to continue as troops move out of Afghanistan in coming years.
In March, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan, said 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.
Allen said after those 23,000 surge forces move out of the country, a sizable presence will remain, to include 68,000 U.S. forces, and up to 40,000 ISAF forces. So what does this mean? Planners at Air Forces Central's Air Mobility Division in Southwest Asia say the Air Force expects airdrop planning will likely be a part of that analysis since it has become one of the leading means of resupply for the troops there.
Throughout the first three months of 2012, mobility airmen airdropped more than 12.9 million pounds of cargo for troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Col. James Ray, chief of the Air Mobility Division at the Combined Air Operations Center in Southwest Asia which manages airdrop missions, said they will fully support an Afghanistan transition.
"Simply put, we will follow General Allen's plan -- fully supporting the ISAF commander's mission objectives to the fullest extent possible," Ray said.
How the OEF airdrop capability grew
Throughout more than 10 ½ years of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, hundreds of millions of pounds of cargo has been airdropped. In fact according to statistics from Air Forces Central, more than 193 million pounds of supplies were delivered by airdrop between 2007 and 2011.
In delivering those supplies, the U.S. Army, Air Mobility Command, AFCENT and Mobility Air Forces from around the globe worked together to build more and more efficient airdrop platforms. One that has received a lot of attention lately is the Joint Precision Airdrop System, or JPADS.
JPADS is a high-altitude, all-weather capable, global positioning system-guided, precision airdrop system that provides increased control upon release from the aircraft. Traditional airdrops by Air Force airlifters, such as the C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III, are performed at altitudes 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.
Early on in precision airdrops, AMC was part of an effort to take the idea of something like JPADS and make it a reality. In November 2005, AMC instituted a JPADS "Tiger Team" that included representation from dozens of agencies at command headquarters, including the Combat Operations Division, Plans and Programs, and the Air Mobility Warfare Center (now U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center) at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
By Aug. 31, 2006, the combined team -- which also included personnel from the Air Mobility Battlelab and the Air Force Weapons School -- was successful. Their work paid off when the first combat airdrop using JPADS took place over Afghanistan.
In addition to JPADS, there is also 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 an air drop.
For example, a C-17 Globemaster III can carry up to 40 CDS bundles for a combat airdrop mission. Each of those bundles are built by U.S. Army parachute riggers who jointly work with the Air Force airlift community to have 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 and Kandahar Airfields in Afghanistan.
Supporting a transition
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in DOD news March 15 that as a "security transition" continues through 2012, and as International Security Assistance Force troops first step back from a combat role and largely drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014, planning what happens up to and after that milestone is increasingly important.
"In the discussions I just completed with President Karzai and ... other leaders, we really did focus on strategy for the future" and what needs to happen up to the end of 2014 and beyond, the secretary said in the report.
While strategy is continuously forming for a transition, mobility airmen and the rest of the coalition team will continue to resupply troops as they have for more than a decade.
"We expect the airdrop demand to decrease as the number of boots on the ground is reduced," Ray said. "However, that will not change our mission priority. The needs of our joint and coalition partners on the ground will be met."
(Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service; and Air Forces Central Public Affairs contributed to this article.)