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Norman P. Bruneau

Quartermaster Professional Bulletin – Spring 1991

Airdrop is a proven way to provide logistical support when fighting, outnumbered, against an enemy with significantly shorter supply lines. This realization drives development of new airdrop equipment. This realization also prompted deployment of airdrop equipment to Saudi Arabia in 1990 for just such an eventuality. The Directorate of Combat Developments at the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, VA, continues to focus on the following wartime requirements for airdrop:

  • Improved rigging and derigging programs
  • Increased airdrop capacity
  • Decreased airdrop vulnerability

Navy Cranes

In 1988 the Army was still looking for an air transportable lifting device (ATLD), a crane easily transported by air by a C130 and easily deployed to remote or intermediate staging bases (ISB). The ATLD would be used at ISBs for rigging loads weighing up to 42,000 pounds, which previously could only be rigged at home station with installed overhead cranes. Rigging all heavy airdrop loads before deployment greatly reduced the warfighting commanders’ flexibility at the staging base and resulted in inefficient use of deployment aircraft. In 1988, the Quartermaster Center and School identified and arranged for testing a 14-ton capacity, C130 transportable crane that the Navy had purchased for container handling. These 14-ton cranes were successfully deployed by air and evaluated by the 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, NC, during ISB operations in Exercise Market Square II in 1988. Two of these cranes, in unison, lifted loads weighing up to 42,000 pounds for rigging. In 1989 the Army classified and directed procurement of the 14-ton cranes for rigger units. Active duty rigger units received the cranes in 1989, and reserve units began to receive the cranes in 1990. Several 14-ton cranes were deployed for possible ISB rigging operations in Operation Desert Storm. The timely identification, testing and fielding of the 14-ton cranes took less than two years and reflected favorably upon the responsiveness of the materiel acquisition system.

New Airborne Items

In 1990, the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, MA, and the Quartermaster Center and School agreed to include two additional items in the airborne rigging inventory that will greatly improve rigging and derigging operations. The commercially available Quick Release Tiedown Device (QRTD) improves rigging and derigging times (decreasing derigging time by 43 percent). The QRTD is less expensive than the current loadbinder. The Army expects to begin procuring the QRTD by late 1991. An improved drive-off aid was also approved in 1990 for derigging operations. It will replace the old universal drive-off aid which did not fit the new family of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), 2 1/2-ton and 5-ton vehicles. The improved drive-off aids should be available for requisition in 1991.


The Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center has also developed a software system called the Airdrop Missions and Equipment Management System (AMEMS) to increase the productivity of airdrop rigging companies by enabling them to plan airdrop missions and control air item inventory more efficiently. Large-scale mission planning and inventory control time requirements have been reduced from several days to less than an hour. AMEMS is currently in use at Fort Bragg, NC.

Parachute Analysis

The Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center and the Quartermaster Center and School have begun analyzing benefits of prepacked, vacuum-sealed cargo parachutes. Indications are that this process will dramatically increase shelf life, allow for storage under non-climatic conditions, reduce volume by 40 percent, and provide limited nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) protection. The greatest benefit will be increased readiness. With this capability, parachute war reserves can be stored in a prepacked configuration, ready for use, upon issue. No depot or unit pack requirements for wartime usage would exist.

Airdrop Capacity

The following efforts focus on increasing airdrop capacity:

  • Combination Loads: The Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center, working with the Quartermaster Center and School and the Airborne and Special Operations Test Board, continues to capitalize on the capabilities of the standard Type V airdrop platform. Rigging procedures have been developed and certified to allow critical combination loads to be airdropped by Low Velocity Airdrop (LVAD) and Low Altitude Parachute Extraction (LAPE) on single platforms. HMMWVs, howitzers and ammunition can now be dropped as a package, greatly reducing the dispersion and recovery times of dropping each item on separate platforms. This capability also increases the Army’s capacity to deliver more items to shorter drop zones.
  • 60K Airdrop System: The 60,000-pound (60K) capacity airdrop system is a multiphase program designed to capitalize on current (C130, C141, C5) and future (C17) aircraft, while increasing single platform capacity from 35,000 to 60,000 pounds. The LVAD and LAPE capability has already been upgraded to 42,000 (42K) pounds for the combat-loaded Sheridan tank and numerous engineer equipment loads. The 42K LVAD capability has been fielded and 42K LAPE components will be procured in 1991. Development of a 60K LVAD and a 60K LAPE continues. Testing and fielding these systems depends on upgrading the C5 and on fielding the future C17 aircraft that will have both 60K LAPE and LVAD capabilities. Type classifications of both 60K airdrop capabilities are projected for 1994. 

Decreased Vulnerability

The Army and the Air Force have jointly agreed that lower altitudes and faster drop speeds are the key to reducing the exposure time to the enemy of delivery aircraft on the battlefield. The following programs aim to reduce aircraft vulnerability and, therefore, airdrop load vulnerability on the battlefield.

  • ECDS: The Enhanced Container Delivery System (ECDS) was developed to improve the current 600-foot, 150-knot Container Delivery System (CDS). The CDS consists of multiple (up to 40 per aircraft), airdroppable, 2,200-pound supply containers. Phase I of the ECDS program brought CDS dramatically down to 300 feet at 150 knots through a simple parachute modification (G12E). This system is in use now. Phase II ECDS development will produce a 300-foot system to work at both 150 and 250 knots. Phase II ECDS will capitalize on both current 150-knot and future 250-knot delivery aircraft. Phase ll. ECDS is projected for type classification in 1994.
  • LARRS: The Low Altitude Retro-Rocket System (LARRS) is being developed to accurately deliver platform loads weighing up to 60,000 pounds from 300-foot drop altitudes at drop speeds up to 250 knots. LARRS will combine parachutes and retro-rockets to decelerate loads to a soft landing (8 feet per second) without using standard “honeycomb” cushioning material. This will allow a drive on/drive off platform capability, greatly reducing rigging and derigging materials handling equipment (MHE) requirements and response time. LARRS is expected to be type classified in 1996.

Airdrop development continues to reflect the changing needs of the field. The focus remains on improving airdrop rigging/derigging operations, increasing airdrop capacity and decreasing airdrop vulnerability. Airdrop may be the only way to provide logistical support when fighting, outnumbered, against an enemy with shorter supply lines.

At the time this article was published Norman P. Bruneau was a Military Analyst (Airborne) at the Directorate of Combat Developments, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia. He is a retired Army officer with 20 years of command and staff experience in logistics and special operations assignments.