Precision-guided airdrop will soon deliver a quicker and more accurate means of sustaining troops over long distances.

Combining steerable parachutes with GPS guidance, the next generation of joint precision air drop systems (JPADS) have been demonstrated in a joint trial between Air Force and Army.

Group Captain Nicholas Hogan, the Officer Commanding No. 84 Wing, said JPADS could land on a dropzone (DZ) the size of a cricket oval, or a road, depending on the delivery mode.

“Historically, DZs have been a cleared area the size of a small airfield, several hundreds of metres long, and at a fixed location,” Group Captain Hogan said.

“Using JPADS significantly increases the areas that ground forces can be resupplied from, which increases their manoeuvre if they’re beyond the range of other resupply methods.

“Ground commanders can also easily control JPADS whilst it’s in flight, effectively allowing them to move the DZ with them on the battlefield instead of being tethered to a fixed point.”

The trials were conducted from August 19-30 at RAAF Base Richmond, New South Wales, and a demonstration at RAAF Base Curtin near Derby in the north of Western Australia.

Led by the Air Force’s Air Mobility Training and Development Unit (AMTDU), the trials also involved members of No. 37 Squadron, the Army’s 176 Air Dispatch Squadron and the Army Logistics Training Centre.

The Joint Precision Aerial Delivery System (JPADS) is demonstrated at RAAF Base Curtin, Western Australia. Photo: Corporal Christopher Wager

Wing Commander Stephen Monypenny, the Commanding Officer of AMTDU, said a C-130J Hercules from Air Force’s No. 37 Squadron was used for the airdrop.

“We conducted three passes over two separate flights,” Wing Commander Monypenny said.

“The first pass delivered a 500-pound (226 kilogram) load, and the second pass delivered a combination of a 4000-pound (1814 kilogram) and two 2000-pound (907 kilogram) systems.

“We then repacked one of the 2000-pound systems and demonstrated its reusability by delivering it again on a second flight.”

The trial allowed parachute riggers and air dispatch personnel to pack, fit and support the loads, as well as provide an opportunity for aircrew to train in how to conduct mission planning for the new systems.

The systems trialled by Air Force and Army rely on existing parachute rigger and air dispatch expertise, with little additional training required to construct loads for their use.

Applied to a C-17A Globemaster, JPADS could allow for the delivery of time-critical cargo over intercontinental distances.

That includes urgently needed medical supplies or spare parts for plant equipment from Australia.

Alternatively, a C-27J Spartan or C-130J Hercules could fly intra-theatre missions from a forward air base in theatre, overfly terrain and surface-to-air threats, and sustain deployed units.

Air Force is looking to roll out JPADS capability in conjunction with 176 Air Dispatch Squadron, providing more options for supporting forces on the ground.

“All three systems were demonstrated in-field with same day repacking and airdrop capability without the need for external support,” Wing Commander Monypenny said.

“A new tablet allowed a ground commander to track and monitor a JPADS loads in flight.”

“This is able to accurately deliver bulk loads and equipment, whether it’s small packets or containers of consumables, rations, or ammunition,”

It can also carry heavier cargo like fresh water, fuel, or specialised equipment.

“As we conduct more clearances with this system, we can expand the envelope for its employment to include heavier loads,” Wing Commander Monypenny said.

“The 2000-pound system is ready for small-scale use, and the remaining systems are still being used for training but could be fielded wider in the next 12 months.”

The equipment manufacturers, Wamore and Complete Parachute Systems, were present at the trials.

A key element of the newer JPADS systems is their use of an Ambassador Modular Autonomous Guidance Unit (MAGU).

Designed to be interchangeable and sustained by a fielded unit, the MAGU enables a JPADS load to use a parachute to ‘steer’ to a bullseye on the dropzone.

Warrant Officer Class 2 Mathew Hawkins, a project officer with AMTDU, said a JPADS system equipped with MAGU could use a circular DZ, with an accuracy better than 150 metres with 80 per cent confidence.

“A key point of difference is that the JPADS can be dropped from an aircraft significantly higher and further away from the DZ, than if it simply airdropped the load from 1000 feet,” Warrant Officer Hawkins said.

“There is also flexibility to utilise a ‘roadway’ mode that is highly accurate to a given axis laterally, while less accurate in a longitudinal sense than ‘accuracy’ mode.

“Its usage potential is vast, with the flexibility of containerising small load items in existing container systems, and a payload range on the family of parachutes between 500 to 4000 pounds.”

“The loads have the same construction requirements as conventional airdrop, with the parachute configuration taking approximately the same time as conventional systems.”