BAGHDAD Ñ 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
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 Ñ with a cargo of
2,200 pounds Ñ 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.