New airdrop techniques have been used on Operation Southern Discovery to deliver supplies to the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).
On January 27, a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster III from 36 Squadron made the 7000km, non-stop round-trip from Hobart to deliver both low-cost and precision-guided payloads to Casey Station.
AAD Supply Services Manager Matt Filipowski said these were new aerial delivery techniques for his team.
“Airdrops are routinely used by polar nations, but the addition of these low-cost and precision-guided parachutes is a first for Australia in Antarctica,” Mr Filipowski said.
“We had really good weather conditions and were able to undertake five individual drops onto the ice, with all completed as planned and the loads landing safely.”
The airdrop mission also validated techniques for resupplying future AAD convoys that may need to establish new drop zones as they travel.
By airdropping fuel, food, water and spares that cannot be carried by the convoy on the entire journey, AAD scientific expeditions can project over greater distances across the frozen continent.
To do this, Air Force’s No. 86 Wing provided training for AAD staff to serve as a drop zone ‘ground party’, able to call in an aircraft to a dynamic drop zone.
Preparing AAD staff for this role required briefing and pre-mission coordination with No. 86 Wing planners.
Dynamic drop zones are normally supported by ground parties staffed by Defence specialist personnel, such as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) or Combat Control Teams (CCT).
For the airdrops on January 27, the C-17A first delivered Low Cost Aerial Delivery System (LCADS) loads at low altitude.
LCADS is a cost-effective option where the parachutes can be kept or discarded, as opposed to legacy reusable parachutes which require specialist handling after a drop, and need to be returned from the drop zone.
This makes LCADS an attractive resupply option for convoys that are underway, or even to support remote communities during Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief operations.
Whilst LCADS is nominally a disposable parachute, AAD staff will manage it appropriately to ensure protection of the local environment.
Using normal Container Delivery Systems (CDS) procedures, each LCADS bundle can deliver up to one tonne of supplies or equipment.
A single pass by a C-17A can deliver up to 40 tonnes of LCADS stores.
For the airdrop in Antarctica, the C-17A crew delivered both High Velocity and Low Velocity LCADS parachutes from a range of altitudes.
This provides Air Force with different delivery options depending on weather and local terrain.
The airdrop in Antarctica also delivered an example Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS), which employs GPS-guidance to steer a parachute to a drop zone.
This allows a C-17A to deliver payloads from greater altitudes and at stand-off distances.
“Remarkably, the precision-guided parachute was dropped from 10,000 feet at a speed of 270km/h and landed its cargo of foodstuffs within 30m of the target,” Mr Filipowski said.
JPADS provides another option to resupply remote deep field camps, tractor trains on inland traverses, or vessels stranded in sea-ice when LCADS is not preferred.
Air Mobility Training and Development Unit (AMTDU) at RAAF Base Richmond prepared the loads with augmentation from Australian Army’s 176 Air Dispatch Squadron.
AMTDU Commanding Officer Wing Commander Cameron Clark said it included sterilising workspaces where loads were prepared.
“The pristine nature of the Antarctic environment demands the highest standards of bio-security must be met” Wing Commander Clark said.
“AMTDU has partnered with the AAD to develop world’s best practice for delivering cargo to sensitive environments.”
“These loads included fresh food stocks for Casey Station, as well as spare parts such as tyres for forklifts.”
As is practice for all Operation Southern Discovery airdrop missions, environmental observers located at nearby protected areas reported no disturbance to wildlife.
The parachutes and loads were recovered by a team of expeditioners from nearby Casey research station.
No. 86 Wing Executive Officer Wing Commander Dean Bolton initiated this airdrop mission to ensure techniques were validated ahead of future AAD convoys.
“No. 86 Wing used this as an opportunity to validate existing procedures for No. 36 Squadron C-17A crews,” Wing Commander Bolton said.
“Safe and accurate aerial delivery is a core skill for any airdrop crew however we rely on accurate information from ground party personnel.
“This mission tested integration between the AAD and multiple Defence units, proving dynamic resupply to an underway AAD convoy is achievable.
“The ability for AAD personnel to identify then communicate a drop zone to an airborne C-17A was an important element of this.”
By using new airdrop equipment such as LCADS and JPADS on the January 27 mission, Defence and AAD were also able to inform future resupply missions to the Antarctic.
“The simplified load recovery and disposable LCADS parachutes will provide greater flexibility to the AAD’s science mission,” Wing Commander Bolton said.