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James S. Emery

Quartermaster Professional Bulletin – Spring 1991

 Airdrop, as Army Systems go, is a relatively new method of delivering people, supplies and equipment into difficult-to-reach or enemy-held areas. Before World War II, the U.S. Army had no airborne/airdrop capability. However, in a few short years beginning in 1940, the Army identified a deficiency in its ability to deploy soldiers into combat and developed a concept for using airborne soldiers. The Army developed tactics and techniques and purchased new equipment. Procedures and training programs were created to train thousands of airborne soldiers. Several airborne divisions were successfully employed before the conclusion of the war in 1945. Compared to the rather lengthy development cycle we work under today, this was a truly remarkable achievement.


Aircraft constraints limited airdrop in World War II to personnel and small “door bundles” loaded with supplies and small items of equipment Larger pieces of equipment along with the crews were inserted by using gliders, frequently towed behind the airdrop aircraft.

The next major step in the evolution of airdrop came during the Korean Conflict. By the 1950s aircraft had evolved so that they could be loaded and unloaded through the tail section rather than the side doors. The Army capitalized on this new technology by developing airdrop systems to successfully drop large pieces of equipment that were extracted, in flight, from the rear of the aircraft. This allowed the airdrop of soldiers along with their supporting equipment for the first time and, consequently, made the glider obsolete.

During this same period, responsibility for airdrop resupply doctrine and parachute rigger training was transferred from the U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA, to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, VA. Also, the airdrop support organizations that began to evolve during World War II were refined and formalized into Quartermaster airdrop units that remained virtually unchanged from the Korean Conflict until the late 1980s. This concept called for assigning an Airdrop Supply Company (TOE 10-407) and an Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Company (TOE 10-417) to each corps and Theater Army Area Command (TAACOM). In addition, the airborne divisions were authorized their own organic support in the Airdrop Equipment Support Company (TOE 10-337).

Heavier and Heavier

Each Airdrop Supply Company was designed to provide 200 short tons of airdrop resupply per day ranging from supply bundles weighing 250 pounds or less up to equipment platform loads which have become heavier and heavier over the years. Currently, these units can drop loads weighing in the range of 42,000 pounds. The heavy lift equipment and the large numbers of air items to meet such a varied requirement made these units expensive to resource, both in personnel and equipment, and difficult to deploy rapidly.

The Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Company was designed to provide airdrop equipment supply and maintenance support to the Airdrop Supply Company. This unit was organized under the assumption that almost 100 percent of the air items used for an airdrop would be recovered and returned to the unit for later airdrops. This meant that the personnel designing the TOE included more parachute riggers in the organization than supply personnel. The airdrop planning factors would later show this return of airdropped items to be a false assumption.

Under the old concept, it took approximately 500 military spaces to provide airdrop resupply support to a corps force with another 500 identical spaces located in the supporting TAACOM. With the personnel and dollar restraints over the years, the result was that very little airdrop force structure has been resourced in the Active Component.

From the Korean Conflict until 1986, the only significant change to the airdrop support unit TOEs was to update them to reflect the new items of equipment developed over the years. Little attention was given to the overall support concept or to the structure of the support units. There was simply no basis for making a change because we did not know what the airdrop resupply workload would be under any given circumstance.

In 1983, during the initial Logistics System Program Review (LSPR) held for the Vice Chief of Staff, Army, the lack of airdrop planning factors was identified as a significant logistic deficiency. The Quartermaster Center and School, working with the entire airborne community, developed a set of airdrop planning factors approved by the Department of the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics (DA ODCSLOG) and published in FM 101-10-1/2 (Staff Officers’ Field Manual Organizational, Technical, and Logistical Data Planning Factors (Volume 2)) in October 1987. These planning factors enabled staff planners to compute, for the first time, a realistic airdrop resupply workload based on a specific geographic region.

Airdrop To Support The Force

In 1986, using the newly approved airdrop planning factors as a guide, the Quartermaster Center and School began to develop a new airdrop support concept. The new airdrop concept is based on the airdrop planning factors and designed to make the corps airdrop resupply support organizations highly deployable and more affordable in terms of people and equipment. The new airdrop concept provides the corps commander with doctrinal airdrop resupply support at a cost of less than half of the personnel required under the old concept.

Under the new concept, each corps, including the airborne corps, will be authorized a Light Airdrop Supply Company (TOE 10-443L) designed to airdrop various types of supply bundles weighing up to 2,200 pounds each. The development of a light company is based on the airdrop planning factors which show that approximately 90 percent of the airdrop resupply requirements can be met in this manner.

TAACOM Support

Each TAACOM will be authorized a Heavy Airdrop Supply Company (TOE 10-643L) and an Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Company (TAACOM, TOE 10-673L). The Heavy Airdrop Supply Company will provide reinforcing support to the Light Airdrop Supply Companies in the corps. In addition, it will be responsible for the airdrop of the heavier items that cannot be rigged by the light companies, such as bridging and heavy barrier materials. The Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Company (TAACOM) will provide airdrop equipment supply and maintenance support to the Heavy Airdrop Supply Company in the TAACOM and to the Light Airdrop Supply Companies in the supported corps (other than the airborne corps). This company will be structured primarily with supply personnel rather than parachute riggers since the airdrop planning factors show that very small quantities of airdrop equipment will be successfully recovered and returned. Airdrop support to the airborne corps is unique and requires a separate discussion.

Airborne Corps Unique

In the old concept the airborne corps was authorized two Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Companies, one to support the Airdrop Equipment Support (AES) Company organic to the airborne division and one to support the Airdrop Supply Company at corps. The AES Company’s mission is to provide parachute packing, maintenance and rigging support to get the division ready for an airborne mission anywhere in the world. Note that the old concept did not authorize an AES Company to perform a similar mission for the large number of corps airborne elements which will also arrive by parachute. This mission fell, by default, on the Airdrop Supply Company which is not properly structured for such a mission.

Under the new airborne corps concept, the airdrop support to the airborne division remains unchanged. However, significant changes are in the corps structure. An Airdrop Equipment Support Company (Airborne Corps) (TOE 10-453L) is scheduled for development in FY 92. For the first time, the airborne elements of the airborne corps will have an organic unit properly designed to support them in their deployment mission. The airborne corps will also have a Light Airdrop Supply Company, the same as the other corps. Since there will be three airdrop support units in the airborne corps, it will also be authorized an Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Company (Airborne Corps) (TOE 10-463L). This company will provide airdrop equipment supply and maintenance support to the three airdrop support units shown. The new airdrop concept will continue to evolve over the next several years.

Once implemented, the new concept will offer the following advantages:

· Provide the corps commander with a lighter, affordable, more deployable corps airdrop support capability.

· Reduce redundance in the airdrop support units in the corps and TAACOM

· Allow for a phased buildup in the theater of operations.

· Provide a properly structured deployment capability to the airborne corps.

· Provide proper structure to the Airdrop Equipment Repair and Supply Companies (TAACOM and Airborne Corps).

Implementation of this new concept should coincide as closely as possible with the implementation of the Air Land Battle-Future concept, which has operations on a nonlinear battlefield as one of its primary characteristics.

At the time this article was published James S. Emery was a Military Analyst, Concepts & Studies Division, Directorate of Combat Developments, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, Fort Lee, Virginia. A graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Logistics Executive Development Course, Fort Lee, Virginia, he has over 22 years of military experience in various Infantry and Quartermaster assignments.