Afghanistan Airdrop Levels Reach New Frontier

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Jan. 20, 2011 — Air­men sup­port­ing deployed air­drop oper­a­tions in Afghanistan reached an unprece­dent­ed lev­el in 2010 with a record 60.4 mil­lion pounds of car­go air­dropped to aus­tere loca­tions through­out 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, when more than 32.2 mil­lion pounds of car­go were air­dropped, U.S. Air Forces Cen­tral sta­tis­tics show.

The increase can be attrib­uted to the surge of an addi­tion­al 30,000 troops to Afghanistan between Decem­ber 2009 and August 2010. In those nine months, Air Forces Cen­tral stats show that more than 40 mil­lion pounds of car­go were air­dropped. But the rea­son for air­drops is the same as it has been since the war start­ed: Afghanistan’s aus­tere envi­ron­ment.

Moun­tain­ous areas, remote oper­at­ing loca­tions and lim­it­ed road infra­struc­ture have made air­drops a neces­si­ty – one that has grown with more troops on the ground.

Accord­ing to a Jan. 12 Defense Depart­ment 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 air­dropped sup­plies and equip­ment has prac­ti­cal­ly dou­bled every year. Air Force Cen­tral sta­tis­tics released yes­ter­day show that 3.5 mil­lion pounds were air­dropped 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 resup­ply aren’t fea­si­ble,” said Air Force 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 coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions, which require per­sis­tent pres­ence and logis­tics.”

The air­drops are accom­plished in many ways. In March, a C‑130 Her­cules made the first “low-cost, low alti­tude,” or LCLA, 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, or JPADS, which guides air­drop bun­dles to their drop zones using GPS tech­nol­o­gy, and the Improved Con­tain­er Deliv­ery Sys­tem, or ICDS, which allows for improved pre­ci­sion by fac­tor­ing in the alti­tude, wind speed, wind direc­tion, ter­rain and oth­er cir­cum­stances that might affect the drop.

A C‑17 Globe­mas­ter III trans­port jet can car­ry up to 40 CDS bun­dles for a com­bat air­drop mis­sion. Those bun­dles often are built by 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, includ­ing bases in South­west Asia as well as at Bagram Air­field and Kan­da­har Air­field in Afghanistan.

The air­men assigned to sup­port those air­drops mis­sions have con­sis­tent­ly report­ed 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 Air Force 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 of Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice, Roger Drin­non of Air Mobil­i­ty Com­mand, Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Joe Kapinos of the 319th Air Refu­el­ing Wing and Senior Air­man Melisa B. White of the 451st Air Expe­di­tionary Wing con­tributed to this sto­ry.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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