96th Airlift Squadron leads Reserve to JPADS

by Capt. Dennis Mishler
934th Opertions Support Flight

4/6/2007 - Minneapolis-St. Paul IAP ARS -- 
Recently, the 96th Airlift Squadron, Minneapolis-St. Paul IAP ARS, continued to demonstrate a "lean forward" approach toward its tactical airdrop mission by sending two aircrews to participate in Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS) training at the U.S. Army Proving Grounds in Yuma, Ariz., Feb. 25- March 2. The cadre, comprised of members from 934th Operations Group, 934th Operations Support Flight and the 96 AS, were the first in Air Force Reserve Command to go through such training.

JPADS utilizes the same global positioning (GPS) technology that helps fighter and bomber aircrew deliver smart bombs with pinpoint accuracy. This allows cargo bundles dropped from C-130's to steer themselves to drop zones. Traditionally, C-130 cargo airdrops are conducted anywhere between 400 and 1000 feet. With JPADS, those same airlift aircraft have the potential to guide airdrop bundles from as high as 25,000 feet with the same, if not better, accuracy. Additionally, JPADS provides the capability to drop cargo to multiple, small drop zones from a single release point. This also keeps the aircraft and aircrews safer and out of range of the enemy.

"It's the JDAMs (joint direct attack munitions) of logistics," said Maj. Neil Richardson, chief of the combat programs and policy branch at Air Mobility Command. He is currently stationed in Yuma, where he oversees JPADS training and testing. "JPADS made its combat debut in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2006 and has since done exactly what it was designed for," said Major Richardson. "This training gives the aircrews a chance to familiarize themselves in a training environment as opposed to learning a new system in theater."

JPADS includes mission planner software residing on a laptop computer to plan the optimal release points. The software is loaded with a high-resolution wind forecast model. The computer also receives updated near real-time wind information while in the air using hand-launched, GPS equipped dropsondes. This information is communicated to the JPADS loads through a repeater in the cargo bay that re-broadcasts the aircraft's GPS coordinates to electronics fastened to the cargo. When dropped, the GPS receivers guide steering mechanisms that literally fly the cargo, under a rectangular para-foil, to the desired point of impact.

"It uses a very accurate, real-time wind picture of what's going on out there," Major Richardson said. "Most of your error comes from wind and we've taken a lot of the error out. As long as you are in the launch acceptability region, you can call green light and your loads are going to go to their intended targets. JPADS takes the aircrew and the aircraft out of harm's way by being higher and further away from the drop zones and therefore, further away from the threats."

While attending training, 934th AW crewmembers successfully airdropped several 2,000 pound JPADS loads to Corral drop zone, confirming the accuracy of the system.