U.S. tries GPS-aided supply drops to counter anti-trucker terror

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military has sought such options as GPS-guided parachute drops to increase air shipments of supplies to troops in Iraq.

Officials and commanders said such options were meant to reduce dependency on ground transports of equipment and supplies.

Ground transports have been hampered over the last few weeks by a spate of abductions of truck drivers who had entered Iraq from Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey.

The military has been examining ways to increase air transports to U.S. troops deployed in remote locations, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the biggest challenge has been the supply of combat units in the Sunni Triangle and near the Syrian border amid the increasing attacks on truckers by Saddam loyalists and Al Qaida-inspired insurgents.

Officials acknowledged a drop in ground transports from Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey over the last few weeks.

The Marine Corps has been experimenting with platforms. On Aug. 9, the marines tested two unmanned supply units released from an aircraft and which landed within less than 200 meters of their target in the Anbar province.

The system, called Sherpa, was programmed with drop zone coordinates, guided by the Global Positioning System and maneuvered by motor-tugged lines. Sherpa guided a pallet of rations for marines for Camp Korean Village in what was regarded as a successful demonstration of air cargo delivery.

Sherpa has been procured and operated by the 1st Air Delivery Platoon, part of Combat Service Support Battalion 7, 1st Force Service Support Group.

Commanders said Sherpa, regarded as an interim air cargo drop solution, has been delivering supplies to marine units throughout the Anbar Province.

Officials said ground transport would continue to be the chief means of delivering supplies to combat units in Iraq. Since March 2004, Combat Service Support Battalion 7 has moved five million pounds of cargo, about 100,000 pounds of which was parachuted.

Still, the U.S. Army plans to expand aerial delivery in an attempt to modernize its supply distribution process throughout Iraq. Commanders said the army has sought to keep U.S. troops and vehicles off dangerous roads throughout the Sunni Triangle.

"Frankly for us, it's a combat zone," Battalion 7 commander Lt. Col. Adrian Burke said.

Sherpa, developed by Canada's Mist Mobility Integrated Systems Technology, uses a rectangular, 900-square-foot parachute as well as a small drogue parachute to help stabilize the cargo pallet. The GPS-guided system, which costs $68,000, contains a body, canopy, riggings, remote control, rechargeable batteries and software.

Officials said Sherpa, with a maximum payload of 1,200 pounds, can be dropped from an aircraft at an altitude of 25,000 feet and can land 200 meters of the target. In contrast, conventional air drops with a cargo of 2,200 pounds require aircraft to fly at below 2,000 feet and are often more than a kilometer off their target.

Prior to flight, operators must enter data of the aircraft's altitude and speed, drop cargo weight, drop zone location and wind speed into Sherpa's control unit. Officials said Sherpa can be operated as far as nine miles from the drop zone.

"The GPS-guided chute gives us more flexibility dropping the load," said Capt. Robert Hornick, a KC-130 cargo plane copilot from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, the unit that flew the Aug. 9 mission. "We just get close to the designated zone and drop it and it does the rest."

Officials said the military has been developing the Joint Precision Air Drop System, a family of computer-guided cargo parachutes expected to transport loads of up to 21 tons. They said smaller versions of the system, meant to support between 2,200 and 10,000 pounds, were not scheduled for deployment until at least 2008.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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