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C-130 Does Low-Cost, Low-Altitude Combat Airdrops

SOUTHWEST ASIA --- A C-130 Hercules aircrew conducted a new method of airdrop that makes deliveries more accurate and flexible for resupply of small, mobile forces Feb. 6, in Afghanistan.

The C-130 aircrew from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, performed the first-ever low-cost, low-altitude combat airdrop to re-supply soldiers at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. The airdrop concept became operational March 1.

A C-130 low-cost, low-altitude combat airdrop 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" alludes to the relative height from which bundles are released from the aircraft.

"Our goal for this mission is to fly to a small forward-operating base and drop some of the smaller bundles to them," said Lt. Col. Darryl Sassaman, the 774th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations who flew on the first LCLA combat mission. They're different from the usual, larger bundles, which we normally drop. Depending on the group we're dropping for, they may not need the mass amount of supplies and equipment, but still need re-supply. Utilizing these smaller bundles accomplishes that mission, giving (ground forces) the ability to quickly pick up the supplies and keep moving forward."

The new airdrop method is another tool airlifters in Afghanistan use to keep ground troops supplied with what they need. In many parts of Afghanistan, rugged terrain and the lack of roads for vehicle convoys make airdrop the only way ground forces get what they need to continue combat operations.

Low-cost, low-altitude combat airdrops will be a niche augmentation to its cousin, container delivery system airdrops, said Col. Keith Boone, the director of the Air Mobility Division at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center here.

"Our main method of supply will continue to be through air-land missions, landing at airfields and offloading supplies," he said. "Where that isn't possible, we will deliver sustainment requirements through larger scale CDS, everything from ammunition to meals.

"The LCLA drops will meet the needs of a smaller subset of the units," Colonel Boone said. "This is a significant step forward in our ability to sustain those engaged in counterinsurgency operations throughout Afghanistan."

The low-altitude delivery is also more accurate than traditional, higher-altitude airdrop methods and cuts down on "stray bundles" that can land away from the drop zone.

The importance of avoiding those stray bundles was emphasized by Gen. Raymond Johns, Jr., the commander of Air Mobility Command, as part of the briefing prior to the first combat LCLA mission.

"This type of mission has given military members, the ones working in these villages, one day, one yard at a time, another opportunity to be successful," General Johns said. "A random bundle destroying someone's property or even worse, hurting someone, can undo all the progress our folks are making within a village."

In addition to increased accuracy, LCLA drops require no specialized training for parachute riggers and can be dropped from a variety of aircraft.

Because Air Force officials have quickly developed this capability, only three aircrews were qualified and flew during the proof-of-principle phase. Additional crews will be trained as the requirement develops.

"It's pretty amazing to be a part of this particular mission," he said. "We are here on the frontlines, doing the mission. A lot of people think we only re-supply people here with mail and food. They tend to forget that our primary customers are the guys on the ground. This type of airdrop will directly impact and support them in their fight against terrorism."

The aircrew planned extensively and trained locally before they could fly the mission. Along with ground training, the crews held mission-planning exercises, trained onboard the aircraft and flew practice runs at high and low altitudes.

For one young loadmaster, the training, as well as the mission, offered the chance of a lifetime.

"This mission is pretty cool," said Airman 1st Class Kameron Trout, a 774th EAS loadmaster. "I have only been in the Air Force for two years and I was selected to do something most people only dream about. From now on, I will be known as one of the first people to do this in combat. When I look back on my Air Force career, this is something for which I can be truly proud."

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C-130 Low-Cost, Low-Altitude Combat Airdrops Now Operational